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Christian Counselling

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TOPIC: Contribution of African Instituted Churches to the growth and rapid spread of Christianity into the interior of Africa.

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DATE: 31st March 2015


Thesis: this paper is meant to highlight on the beginnings and the rationale behind the founding of African Instituted Churches, their spread throughout Africa and discuss their contribution to the spread of Christianity in Africa and especially the interior of the continent. Hereafter referred to as AICs, they are usually identified as; African Independent Churches, African Initiated Churches, or African initiated churches.
The AICs, represent well over 10,000 independent Christian denominations in Africa. African Independent Churches are found in every region and country in Africa. The common thread uniting all of the Christian churches is that they were all established by African initiative rather than by foreign missionary agendas. Even though many of these churches have traditional denominational names and relationships, they are not defined by these traditions. These churches emphasize that they are established and led by Africans. In addition, all AICs place emphasis on the biblical warrant to include African cultural norms into their modes of worship, theology, and practice, though to varying degrees. Some scholars claim that African Independent Churches are syncretistic in that they combine indigenous African religion with Christian beliefs, but the degree to which this occurs is varying. Regardless, a process of acculturation between Christianity and African culture does occur. AICs have also demonstrated a strong missionary tendency in that most of the spread of Christianity throughout Africa in the 20th century can be attributed to African Independent Churches.
The beginnings
Baur notes, “the independent churches witness to the protestant denominations’ incapacity for properly catering for the vast sectors of the African population, especially the poor…”. Well, this is just but a simple entry point to the vast sea of reasons behind the explosion of the AICs in Africa. Dating the pre-colonial period, Africans were not without a religion. In fact to the African religion is the very way of life. Every activity in the life of the African translated to a religious practice. When Christianity came to Africa a second time by the colonialists, it was wrapped in garments of the westerners, that is, Christianity set foot in Africa dressed in western way of life. To be an African Christian meant also taking with you the culture of the bearer. In some denominations like the Roman Catholic, the African felt cut off and could not understand why he/she should murmur words in Latin after the Italian Padre. The language, culture and attitude of the bearer of the gospel made the Africans feel left out and failed to completely integrate with the faith. This prompted decisive action to practice the Christian faith in a manner that fits the very religious African, thus the birth of the AICs.
Its practice; an avenue to the heart of Africa
The AIC represents first of all “a place to feel at home”. Western missionaries were largely negative about African culture and Africans were alienated from the European dressed gospel. To that extent, the AICs represent an indigenizing movement in Christianity. They in effect protest the verbal and cerebral mode which puts Western Christianity beyond the reach of people’s comprehension and experience. Instead, the AICs offer a religion that celebrates life, making considerable use of symbols, music and dance. “Thus they represent cultural renaissance in reaction to the cultural imperialism of the mission work of the historic churches”.
Second, the AICs represent a radically biblical movement. Taking off from the Protestant claim that the Bible is an open book for individual interpretation, the AICs have seen the Bible as a source to legitimate a wide variety of basic Christian patterns, often of special relevance to local conditions or of special appeal to local people. Thus Old Testament accounts of taboos are very much of interest to them. The importance of dreams, visions and trances as media of God’s revelation is stressed reflecting the mysticism of the AICs, an experience of the divine on earth.

Third, while Western churches emphasize Christology, the AICs make the Holy Spirit the focus of belief and practice. While they firmly believe in the person of Jesus Christ, they appear more at home with the Holy Spirit, especially since Christ has ascended into heaven. This affirmation of the Holy Spirit does not just emphasize sanctification, but also points to the Spirit as power made manifest in healing, exorcism, and mission. This emphasis on the Spirit asserts both continuity and discontinuity with the many spirits of the heritage of traditional African religious ideologies over and against the tendency of the historic churches to institutionalize every manifestation of the Spirit.

Fourth, the churches of the West and their daughter churches in Africa have the stamp of individualism, which characterizes society after the industrial revolution. That goes against the ethos of African societies, which proverbially view life in communitarian terms. The AICs thus act as a surrogate or auxiliary tribe, creating a self-selected community (e.g. Holy Apostles of Aiyetoro in Nigeria). This sense of community is mutual aid in resources, the sharing of a common vocabulary and culture.

From the foregoing, I can confidently argue that the AICs represent a renewal movement, particularly in terms of effective evangelism, better communication of the gospel than was received from the churches founded from the West. Whereas the mainstream ‘mother’ churches are much inclined to the western way of doing things, the AICs have come ‘down to Africa’ and have been able to evangelize and penetrate Africans to the very heart of Africa. AICs help Africans survive in the modern world without losing their African culture. Since the 1930s, there has been a proliferation of Pentecostal or Charismatic AICs.
The above cited reasons among others inspired African religious leaders to separate from the mainstream churches and start their own. Some AICs were established by a charismatic African religious leader or "prophet," such as Simon Kimbangu, Isaiah Shembe, or William Wade Harris. These separatists movements gave rise to intensified pastoral work and saw their membership increase. In Kenya particularly, there are thousands of AICs almost all started by charismatic religious leaders from the mainstream churches. A good example is the East Africa Pentecostal Church(EAPC). This charismatic church was started around 1952 in Mombasa by Walter Olson, from Norway, who was assisted by a Kenyan called Jackson Silawa from Luo Nyanza. In 1960, the church expanded to Tanzania and opened many centers. The church seemed to penetrate most parts of East Africa because it is tolerant of aspects of African culture. The church emphasizes the reading of the book of Acts, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and speaking in tongues. They believe in healing, the giving of tithes and offering to be blessed, miracles, and deliverance from satanic powers. They practice adult baptism, the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and other ordinances. The bishop is their highest leader. The other AIC is the The People's Church Ministries, a charismatic church was started by Bishop Francis N. Wanderi in the year 2001 in Kerugoya Town in Kerugoya District in Central Province, Kenya. Wanderi was born and raised in the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA). Before starting the People's Church, he was a primary school teacher. He resigned his teaching position and joined a theological college by correspondence and became a pastor in the African Christian Church. He resigned from the African Christian Church where he had served for more than nine years because he felt the church was more structural than relational.

The People's Church Ministries' theology is based on Mark 11:17 and Revelation 10:11. The church belongs to the people of God and teaches self reliance through faithful giving of offerings, evangelism, and biblical theology. They observe Biblical rites like child dedication, marriage, baptism by immersion, the Lord's Supper, anointing oil, the laying on of hands, funeral/burial rites, and speaking in tongues. The church has had a local impact because of its commitment to reach out to people, especially the poor and the marginalized. It contributes money and food to the poor. Its "Grace/ Mercy Ministry" liaises with the Ministry of Health by donating hospital beds and other items needed in the hospitals in the area. These charitable initiatives have made the church popular in the area.
During the colonial period, many black converts to Christianity were unable fully to reconcile their beliefs with the teachings of their church leaders, and split from their parent churches. The reasons for these splits were usually either: political – an effort to escape white control; historical – many of the parent churches, particularly those from a protestant tradition, had themselves emerged from a process of division; or cultural – the result of trying to accommodate Christian belief within an African world view.The AICs have been labeled many thing and called many names; some scholars have concluded that some are cults, others have judged their leaders as having little or no theological training amidst other accusations. But the fact remains that these leaders during their time in history tried to give Christianity in the African context. The impact of the AICs is felt worldwide and has given another direction and dimension to the Christian faith.

Bibliography 1. Baur, John, 2009, 2000 years of Christianity in Africa; An African Church History(2nd Edition), Pauline Publications Africa, Nairobi 2. Hildebrandt, Jonathan, 1990.History of the church in Africa; A survey, Africa Christian Press, Lagos 3. 4. 5.

[ 1 ]. Baur p 410
[ 2 ].
[ 3 ].
[ 4 ]. Ibid
[ 5 ].

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