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Church Conflict: A Study Of Breakaway Phenomenon In the Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel




  • Background of the Study

Before 1914, the church was the center of the social, spiritual and political aspirations of educated Africans and illiterate converts (Ayandele, 1966:178). The church is by itself solemn, revered by its congregants and held as sacred by the society. Because the church is beyond a building and is not complete without her congregants, the occurrence of conflict is inevitable.  The incidences of conflict in the church further strengthen the assertion that conflict is ever present in all human relations. Conflicts in churches usually result in excommunication, litigation, suspension of membership, transfer of clergy. As a phenomenon, breakaway is neither new nor common to Nigeria. Human relation is the all-important recipe for conflict, notwithstanding the umbrella that unites them.

Change and continuity in history holds that although the society is constantly undergoing change, there is a continuation of a cycle rather than a progression of historical events over a period of time, and the recognition of those events as inseparably inter-connected (Kleen, 2005). What this explains is that circumstances may differ but the fundamental issues surrounding the occurrence of conflict in human relations have remained the same over time. Wherever church conflict escalated to crisis and                        probably ended in ex-communication or breakaway, the underlying causes are                   usually traceable to leadership tussle, doctrinal change, financial misappropriation, indiscipline/insubordination to constituted authority, nepotism and favoritism. Although some church founders give reason for establishing their own churches as “acting in response to a call from God”, further probing usually reveals other underlying causes.

In Germany, Martin Luther, a Catholic Priest (1483-1546) became popular for his attempt and effort at reforming the Roman Catholic Church.  He rejected some practices of the church as were contained in the “Ninety Five Theses”. He strongly criticized the doctrine of Indulgences and by this had committed heresy against the Catholic Church (Shelley, 2008). By June 1520, Pope Leo X issued his Bull condemning Martin Luther and gave him sixty days to recant his heresy. By January 1521, Luther had not recanted and was therefore excommunicated from the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” at the Imperial Diet held at Worms (McGrath, 1988). By this time, Martin Luther had gathered a good number of followers. Upon his excommunication, the Lutheran Church was established throughout Germany many other countries in Europe and from there to the rest of the world. Subsequently, a major seat of Protestantism developed in Geneva under John Calvin. Like Luther, he had developed his own principles which were “Salvation by faith alone, The authority of the Bible, and The priesthood of all believers” (Fisher, 1994:270). Calvinism became a state religion in Scotland. The Calvinist Church of Scotland was later renamed Presbyterian.

In England, King Henry VIII appealed to Pope Clement VIII for the annulment of his marriage to Cathrine of Aragon, which had produced him no sons.  By 1533 Henry went against the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and married a second wife Anne Boleyn. Henry was excommunicated by the Pope, and the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church and became known as the Anglican Church, with the King as its secular head. Also, within the Anglican Church, John Wesley an ordained Anglican clergy, founded the Methodist Movement. Although he claimed he had no intention of separating from the Church of England, his activities which was climaxed by his ordination of a superintendent and seven Presbyters with power to administer the sacrament, pointed towards separation (Fisher, 1991-1994). It eventually led to separation.

In Nigeria, The Native Baptist Church established in April 1888, was the first African Church in Nigeria (Ayandele, 1987). For the first time since the beginning of foreign missionary activities in Nigeria, an indigenous Church was established. The breakaway came as a result of pent up feeling against white missionary administration of the Church over time. With the establishment of newspapers owned by Nigerians between 1878 and 1887, the natives aired their views loudly. Although, they supported missionary enterprise, they wanted one that was Pro-African.

The Policies of various missions came under fire and the behaviour of individual white missionary came under review (Ayandele, 1966: 197).

The breakaway of the Native Baptist Church dealt a great blow on the Mission Church as membership was reduced to eight.  An excerpt from a pamphlet entitled Africa and the Gospel written by Mojola Agbebi in 1889 reads:

For Christianity to be rendered to indigenous Africans, it must be watered by native hands, pruned with native hatchet and tendered with native earth… It is a curse if we forever hold on to apron strings of foreign teaches, doing the baby for aye (Ayandele, 1966:200).

In 1901, the African Church Bethel seceded from the Anglican Church in Lagos. This major secession occurred in St. Paul Breadfruit Anglican Church which was pastored by an African nationalist Rev. James Johnson. The separation hardly came as a surprise as many Africans protested the deliberate attempts of the Church Missionary Society to impose European culture on them while the African custom was gradually eroding.  Rev. Johnson’s Church House, was used by the nationalist for their usual meetings.  These nationalist questioned the retention of higher Church Offices by the white missionaries.  This situation gave them the feeling of being rode upon and placed in an inferior position as compared to the white missionaries.

The immediate cause of the secession was the issue which was perceived by the nationalists as ill-treatment of Rev. James Johnson by Bishop Tugwell. Bishop Tugwell was a European even in character (Ogunwole, 2006).  When news came to him that some parishioners who were obviously aggrieved had set in motion their plans to separate from the St. Paul’s Breadfruit Anglican Church, he undermined their ability to coordinate an organization such as a church. On October 13, 1901, Parishioners numbering about six hundred which accounted for two third of the entire Church population held their first Church Service and a new African Church was established (Ayegboyin and Ishola, 1997).

On December 28, 1917 following the expulsion of sixty-five polygamists in the Methodist Church, the United African Methodist Church was established. Their decision to establish their own church was reached because the men sought a Church where they would not be controlled or governed by foreign missionary. They wanted to be free to serve God as Africans in spirit and in truth, without any hypocrisy (Webster, 1964).

By mid 1927, the Oberi Okaime Christian Mission was founded as an independent church. The Oberi Okaime Movement was birthed by revival services conducted by certain Qua Iboe Church teachers, in Uyo.  Apart from seeking freedom from political domination, oppressive practices and attitudes, and the racism of the white Missionaries and colonial rulers, like other independent churches, the Oberi Okaime Movement sought to interpret and practice Christianity from an African cultural, religious and cosmological point of view (Abasiattai, 1989). Oberi Okaime was different in form and practice from other independent churches. A number of practices distinguished them from other African churches.  For instance, they changed their day of worship from Sunday to Etaha, a day in Ibibio calendar, dedicated to worship and rest. So they worshipped on any day of the week on which Etaha fell. They also developed a Spirit Language which they used in translating the Bible, wrote their hymn book and taught their members how to speak, read and write.  The movement which started as a fickle glow soon became a bonfire sweeping through Uyo, Ikot Ekpene and Itu district.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, and the early part of the 20th Century, a number of African Churches emerged in Nigeria.  The Churches include: the Native Baptist Church (1888), The United Native African Church (1891), The African Church (1901), The Christ Army Church (1915), and The United African Methodist Church (Eleja, 1917). These churches were characterized by the desire for Africans to have control over their practice of the Christian religion and to be emancipated from the grip of foreign missionary (Bello, 2013).

The Christ Apostolic Church founded by Joseph Ayo Babalola was established in 1941 after it separated from The Apostolic Church following a Schism in the Apostolic Church. Subsequently, John Etefia also broke away from The Apostolic Church in 1944, and established The Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church in Calabar. There are two accounts on the breakaway of John Etefia from The Apostolic Church. The first is that Etefia broke away because he was relegated to the background by the white pastors in The Apostolic Church. The second account holds that John Etefia decided to use the option of breakaway as a result of the “high level of immorality, corruption of the white leaders of The Apostolic Church, homosexual practices, coupled with persecution that was meted on him for his prayer and prophetic prowess” (Ojo, 2014).

Ruth Marshal once observed that:

One of the most remarkable trends of the last decade among the Christian population of the southern Nigeria has been the dramatic rise of the so called “Charismatic” or Pentecostal movement (Marshall, 2009).

However, it is important to note that a feeling of dissatisfaction is usually the spur of the beginning of a new movement; thus, the need to evaluate a number of Pentecostal churches, and the process of their establishment. Rotimi Omotoye posits that Churches often started “Christian fellowship” centers before they metamorphosize into churches (Omotoye, 2010).

Church of God Mission International was formally inaugurated in Benin in 1965.  The Church started as a prayer group in 1962 with the name Calvary Fellowship. Before the establishment of the Church, the founder Benson Idahosa was a member of the Assemblies of God Church and held the post of the Sunday School Superintendent ( Ayo Oritsajefor established the Word of Life Bible Church in 1987.  Before the establishment of his own Church, he was the pastor in charge of the Warrri Branch of Benson Idahosa’s Church of God Mission.  The Warri branch was second largest of the Church of God Mission Churches. The branch expanded numerically under Pastor Ayo. However, in November 1987, during the Church of God Mission Convention, crisis which bothered on finance, ensued between Ayo Oritsejafor and Bishop Benson Idahosa.

In an interview with Sam Eyoboka, Ayo Oritsejfor is quoted thus:

..It became obvious that I could no longer remain there. There were pronouncements that that were made publicly that it would be out of place for you to remain in a place where there were such public pronouncements about you (

Oritesjafor upon leaving the convention ground in Benin and returned to Warri where he established the Word of Life Bible Church. In solidarity to hi, bulk of the church members left with him to his new church (, 2012).

The Deeper Life Bible Church is one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Nigeria. The “Holiness Church” as it is called, started in 1973 as a bible study group in the official residence of the founder, William Folorunsho Kumuyi.  His residence was known as “Flat 2” in the University of Lagos (Gaiya, 2001). The group was made up of a number of fifteen members who came around to be taught by Kumuyi. In 1976, the membership of the bible study group had appreciated such that “Flat 2” could no longer accommodate them. The Bible Study Group moved to Akoka, near the University, where it drew more non-denominational members.

However, in 1977, Kumuyi who was until this time a member of the Apostolic Faith Church, was excommunicated from the Church. Kumuyi’s stance on evangelism which involved preaching to as many people who were ready to listen was not in consonance with the doctrine of the Apostolic Faith Church (Akoda, 2012).

Kumuyi in his own words explained reasons for the split between him and the Apostolic Faith:

The basic reason is that the Apostolic Faith did not believe in every member going out to witness to winning souls. They felt that if everybody did that they would not teach the right thing in a uniform manner because they were young and untrained. I said no, they were not going out to teach other people, they were just saying this what Christ can do for you… (See: Ankomah, 2006:p.8).

As a result of this disagreement with the Apostolic Faith Church leadership, Kumuyi was compelled to establish the Deeper Life Bible Church in November, 1982.

Breakaway is not new to the Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church considering the fact that the church itself broke away from the Apostolic Church Nigeria. In the lower Cross River region, The Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church appears to have the highest number of breakaway churches.  Ojo observes that “the Mount Zion Churches in Cross River and Akwa Ibom States are like cherubim and seraphim Churches in Yoruba land whose brands are numerous” (Ojo, 2014,p.34). One significant issue in these breakaways is that they maintain some part of the name THE MOUNT ZION LIGHT HOUSE FULL GOSPEL CHURCH in the names of their own churches. Some of these churches include, The Mount Zion Church Mission Incorporated, Mount Zion Christ Church, Sanctified Mount Zion Church, Redeemed Sanctified Mount Zion Church, Divine Mount Zion Church, God’s Zion Church, Power of Zion Ministries, among others. A plethora of Mount Zion Churches have sprung up from The Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church, due reasons such as leadership squabbles, false prophecies and immorality (Ojo, 2014).

  • Statement of Research Problem

The Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church like other faith based organizations is a religious institution as well as a change agent in the society. It is saddled with the religious and social responsibility of impacting positively on the society. It was established to minister on the spiritual needs of members. Since its establishment in 1944, the church has experienced several cases of breakaway either from the parent church or from other splinter groups.  However, the internal conflicts and breakaways in the church have gradually turned it more to itself than the society, thus making it a phenomenon. There is a paucity of works published on church conflict. Also, there is hardly a published work on breakaway phenomenon in churches. Neither is there a detailed study of the Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church.

1.3       Research Questions

  1. What factors are responsible for breakaways in the Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church?
  2. What effect does breakaway have on the mother Church?
  3. What characteristics do the splinter Churches share in common?
  4. Are there internal measures by the Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church to handle conflict?


  • Objectives of the Study

The study will therefore:

  1. Trace the evolution of breakaway in the Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church.
  2. Investigate the underlying issues and reasons for breakaway
  3. Examine the churches that have broken away from the Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church.
  4. Examine the processes they have implored in the management of these conflicts.
  5. Discuss the impacts of the breakaway phenomenon on the mother church.

1.5       Significance of Study

To provoke further research on the Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church and other churches that share the same phenomenon. It will add to the available literature on church history and conflict.



A lot of scholarly works have been published on institutional conflict.  However, there seems to be a paucity of works published on church conflict. Also there is hardly a published work on breakaway phenomenon in churches. Similarly there is yet no detailed study of the Mount Zion Light House Full Gospel Church. This chapter basically reviews the existing literature related to the subject matter.


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