Monday, April 20, 2009

African Church History: Ethiopia, Kongo

As promised/threatened, a couple of posts on Christianity in Africa.

The first thing I noticed is that it isn't something that began when American and European missionaries sat up and took notice of the place a couple centuries ago. Nope. Goes way back.

The Church in

The Ethiopian church, as ancient as any, “offers one of the most heroic success stories in Christianity,” but the West knows almost nothing of it since they (like the Armenians) were separate from European Christianity by differences over doctrine.

“The Ethiopian church has many aspects that would surprise a Westerner, including practices that stem from Judaism. Believers practice circumcision, some keep a Saturday Sabbath, and many churches feature an ark. Claiming Solomonic tradition, the kings practiced polygamy. We do not know whether early Ethiopians had been converted to Judaism before they found Christianity, or if (more likely), they just treated Old Testament models with much more reverence than would European Christians. As we will see, many modern-day African Christians likewise feel very comfortable with the world of the Old Testament, and try to revive ancient Hebrew customs – usually to the horror of European Christians.

“But for all the Ethiopian church’s quirks, it would be a daring outsider who would venture to suggest that the faith for which Ethiopians have struggled and died for over 1,700 years is anything less than a pure manifestation of the Christian tradition.”

Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom, p. 19

The Kingdom of Kongo (see its location here.)

Portuguese Catholics introduced Christianity to the West coast of Africa, and missionaries penetrated inland in several places. The king of “Kongo” was baptized in 1491. (Here's his picture, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

“Observers over the next two centuries remarked on how widely the Kongolese people knew and accepted Catholic Christianity, at least as thoroughly as their South American counterparts. This was no mere conversion of convenience, for the purpose of securing European guns and gold. One of the first Christian Kongo rulers, Mvemba Nzinga, has been described as ‘one of the greatest lay Christians in African church history.” (Jenkins, p. 29)

Christianity thoroughly penetrated the society, and by 1700 Kongolese Catholicism was already in its sixth generation. (p. 30)

In the early 1800s Protestants began mission work across Southern Africa, but in many cases these missionaries were “not so much breaking new ground as reopening ancient and quite familiar mines. In the 1880s, missionaries in the Kongo met with mass enthusiasm that would be difficult to explain if we did not realize that the people were rediscovering what had been the national religion only a century or so earlier.” (p. 34)

1 comment:

Marti said...

Wonder why the king looks so mad? Here are some theories:
1. Because somebody sold his clothes.
2. Crown too tight.
3. Because the Portuguese weren't willing to learn how to pronounce his name "Nzinga a Nkuwu."