Celestial Church of Christ
The Celestial Church of Christ is an African Initiated Church founded by the Rev. Samuel Biléhou Joseph Oschoffa on 29 September 1947 in Porto-Novo, Benin. Mainly located in Africa and in the Afro-descendant communities in the world, particularly in Benin and Nigeria, the church is one of the most important ones from the movement Aladura.
The movement was founded by Samuel Joseph Bilewu Oschoffa, a former carpenter born in Dahomey (now Benin) in 1909. Raised as Protestant (Pentecostalism), he claimed to have a divine revelation on 27 May 1947, during a solar eclipse, in a forest where he was lost. He felt called to pray, to heal the sick and raise the dead and founded his church in September 1947. Having appointed himself prophet, Reverend, pastor and founder, he occupied the highest office of the movement he had just founded. The hegemony he exercised on doctrine and discipline issues made his succession difficult after his death in 1985 in Lagos (Nigeria).
The movement has continued to grow since Oshoffa’s death, but has also suffered setbacks—the most immediate being severe difficulties related to the matter of succession. Oschoffa was succeeded by Alexander Abiodun Adebayo Bada, who was head of the church until his death on 8 September 2000.Bada was briefly followed as leader by Philip Hunsu Ajose, who died in March 2001. There was a dispute over the succession to Ajose, with some declaring Gilbert Oluwatosin Jesse the leader, while others recognised the Reverend Emmanuel Oschoffa, son of Samuel Oshoffa. Following Jesse’s death, his faction declared that Superior Evangelist Paul Suru Maforikan was the new spiritual leader of the church.
The Celestial Church of Christ (CCC) was recognized and authorized by the Republic of Dahomey (former name of Benin) in 1965. From 1976, the church launched an evangelistic campaign in former colony of the French West Africa, which became independent in 1958 and Nigeria in 1960, when the mother of Samuel B J. Oshoffa was born.
From the late 1990s, this church has shown its willingness to use the Internet as a privileged means of evangelization thus allowing the many existing branches of the church within the African Diaspora (United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, France, USA) to maintain contact with each other and with Nigeria, the country in which the church is the most popular.
The Celestial Church of Christ is a church that claims to be prophetic with Christian background and a tradition located in Aladura churches (founded in Nigeria in the 1920s). The faithfuls are called ‘Celestians’. The name of the church is inspired by a vision by which Jesus would have said that Church members adore him as do the angels in heaven.
It claims inspiration from God through the manifestation of the Holy Spirit among the faithful. Its doctrinal teachings are based on the Bible and any superstition or animist belief from traditional African religions is excluded, as in other churches in the Aladura movement.
The Church is governed by twelve major recommendations, consisting several banned things, including food, common to other monotheistic religions.
Tobacco, alcohol and eating pork are forbidden. The faithful must remove their shoes for prayer and in the places of worship. Men and women are separated at the church. Menstruating women and those who have recently given birth are unclean and can not attend the church for seven days in the first case after which they would be “sanctified”, and forty days in the second case. Only men who are anointed are allowed to access to the altar.
The Church has its own Yoruba translation of the Bible, but also uses the King James Bible.
Although the church takes elements from Yoruba thought, it also has strong similarities to the “purification movements” against paganism that are relatively common in African Christianity and Islam. Oshoffa believed he had a mission to combat “‘Satan’, ‘fetish priests’ and other ‘powers of darkness’.”(Marburg article) The name of the group comes from the Bible: Deuteronomy 26:15 “Look down from thy Holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel and the land which thou hast given us, as thou didst swear to our father, a land flowing with milk and honey”. The name signifies that they deem themselves as celestial or a representative of the heavenly on Earth.
In 2001, it was the second largest church in Benin by the number of its practitioners (nearly half a million).
In France, the church is suspected by two anti-cults associations, ADFI and CCMM, of “cultic deviances” and of having committed acts of violence involving the death of a fifteen-year minor.