The Twelve Apostles Church also popularly referred to as ‘Nackabah’ is the first known African initiated church in Ghana. The Church exemplifies African initiative in Christianity by seeking to address the concerns and needs of African believers by making use of resources from the Bible and the African worldview. Although the African prophet William Wade Harris (see Harris, William Wade) did not found a church but worked in close collaboration with Western missionaries, some of his followers started their own independent churches. Following on the visit of Harris to Axim and Apollonia districts, of Western Ghana in 1914, two of his earliest converts, Grace Tani and John Nackabar, started the church. The formal name of the church resulted from the practice of Harris appointing twelve apostles in each local congregation to cater for the pastoral needs of his converts.
Grace Tani was one of Harris’s wives. A charismatic leader, she ministered to the needs of the members through divination and healing. Nackabar, after whom the church was nicknamed, assumed the administrative leadership of the church and was recognized as the main leader. Nackabar was succeeded by John Hackman, who in turn, appointed his nephew, Samuel Kofi Ansah as his successor before his death in June 1957. After the death of Ansah, the heads of the various districts started functioning independently of the headquarters of the church at Kadjabir in the Western Region of Ghana.
Essentially, for the Church, doctrine is secondary, and what is stressed is meeting the needs of their members such as healing the sick, casting out of evil spirits and the search for security and prosperity. The Church has two major sacred objects, namely, the Bible and the African dancing gourd-rattle (an African religious and secular musical instrument, made from a calabash with a ‘neck’, netted with strings of white beads which is rattled rhythmically to accompany singing and dancing). Every member is expected to possess these sacred objects. The Bible, for instance, is not primarily meant for reading, but is principally used as means of warding off evil from adherents; sick members are made to use it as pillow or put it under their pillow as part of the healing rituals. The noise of the rattle is believed to scare evil spirits and facilitate the healing process of believers. Interestingly most of the church’s practices such as the use of the rattle are based not on African spirituality, but the Bible, as found in Exodus 15:20.
The Twelve Apostles Church enjoins adherents to observe certain food prohibitions such as abstinence from taking pork, stinking fish, shark’s meat as well as snails, smoking, and the drinking of strong liquor. New dietary regulations are made as and when new revelations are received. The church attaches great importance to fasting. The leadership believes the ‘Spirit’ directs them as to what kind of fast (total abstinence or partial), the length of time that the fast should be embarked upon and the sort of people who should participate in the fast.
Neophytes are admitted without instructions, through special rituals, such as the marking of the sign of the cross on their foreheads in the name of the Trinity, a special ritual bath, and a special handshake by the leaders. Members observe a special code of ethics. Polygamous marriage and remarriage are not prohibited in the church.
The church has a sacred garden adjoining the regular place of worship where prayer meetings as well as healing services and other religious practices are held. A significant feature of this garden is a white wooden cross, located at the centre. Adherents lift basins of water towards it believing that the water will be consecrated and rendered efficacious for the purpose of healing. Furthermore, one striking feature of the church is the use of ‘holy water’, for protection against evil spirits as well as for divine healing. Adherents are made to carry ‘holy water’ on their heads, dance, and twist and swirl until they become ecstatic. At this point, their belief is that the Spirit falls on them. This event gives rise to violent outcries, shouts of joy, and convulsion in order for divine healing to be effected.
The emphasis on healing and warding off evil spirits by the Twelve Apostles Church is an attempt to address the concerns and needs of African believers in the context of the Church in Africa.