Black History Month: Christian history in Africa


Celebration of Black History Month

COGwriter

February was designated as Black History Month in 1969 and observed since 1970 by various Americans.

Instead of focusing on secular history in the USA, this post will attempt to cover some of the history of Christianity in Africa.

The New Testament discusses in some detail the conversion of at least one influential African and shows that God intended him to receive the message:

6 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:

“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”

34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?”

35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water.

And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”

And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:26-39).

According to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, at least one of the twelve apostles preached into Africa:

XV. Simon Surnamed Zelotes, preached the Gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even in Britain, in which latter country he was crucified, A.D. 74. (Fox’s Book of Martyrs. Edited by William Byron Forbush. Copyright 1926/1967. Zondervan, Publishing, Grand Rapids (MI), pp. 3-5).

Another source agrees that the apostles got to Africa (Ruffin C.B. The Twelve: The Lives of the Apostles After Calvary. Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington (IN), 1997, pp. 17-171).

Early church history shows that there were both true as well as false Christians in northern Africa (as well as other places).

In the third century, Origen noted in northern Africa that there were two groups that he considered to be “Ebionites,” one who believed in the virgin birth (and that would be those who this paper suggests were also known as the Nazarenes) and those who did not:

Let it be admitted, moreover, that there are some who accept Jesus, and who boast on that account of being Christians, and yet would regulate their lives, like the Jewish multitude, in accordance with the Jewish law,—and these are the twofold sect of Ebionites, who either acknowledge with us that Jesus was born of a virgin, or deny this, and maintain that He was begotten like other human beings…(Origen. Contra Celsus, Book V, Chapter 61).

The true Christians in Africa were not those associated with Origen (please see what happened in Alexandria), nor those that denied the virgin birth. The true Christians were those who professed Jesus and had practices similar to those of the Jews.

Origen of Alexandria, however, was not a true Christian. Origen even appeared to recognize several non-canonically writings as scripture and had been influenced by some Gnostic teachings. Sadly, Origen referred to The Epistle of Barnabas like he does actual parts of the Bible (Origen. Contra Celsus, Book I, Chapter 63), seems to also do so with the falsely titled Gospel of Peter (Origen. Commentary on Matthew, Book X, Verse 17. ANF), and even calls what I consider to be the “demonically-influenced” Shepherd of Hermas as “divinely inspired” (Cited in Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance).

Antioch (which is now in present day Syria) probably resisted much of this Gnostic influence until some time into the early third century. And while Origen and some others recognized the falsely titled “Gospel of Peter” it was specifically condemned by Serapion, Bishop of Antioch. Serapion went to see a group that he thought was Christian in the seaside port of Rhossus, which is located southwest of Alexandria. When he got there he was disappointed to learn that they were reading this “Gospel of Peter” (Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book VI, Chapter XII, verse 1, p. 125 ) and thus he realized that they were not all part of the “true faith”:

For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ; but we reject intelligently the writings falsely inscribed with them, knowing that such were not handed down to. When I visited you I supposed that all of you held the true faith…(Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book VI, Chapter XII, verses 3-4, p. 125-126).

Thus while there were some true Christians in northern Africa in the early part of the third century, Serapion ran into false ones. And like the rest of the world, sadly the majority of people in Africa (and elsewhere) who profess the religion of Christ, are not practicing the religion of the Christ of the Bible as the true church was only expected to be a “little flock” (for more information, please see the article The History of Early Christianity).

It probably should also be mentioned that around the time of Serapion, at least one African leader named Nepos stood up to allegorists like Origen. The Catholic Encyclopedia reported:

An Egyptian bishop, Nepos, taught the Chiliastic error that there would be a reign of Christ upon earth for a thousand years, a period of corporal delights; he founded this doctrine upon the Apocalypse in a book entitled “Refutation of the Allegorizers” (Chapman, John. “Dionysius of Alexandria.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 14 Aug. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05011a.htm>.).

A nineteenth century anti-millennial scholar named Giovanni Battista Pagani went as far as to write the following about Nepos and those who supported the millennium:

…all those who teach a millennium framed according to Jewish ideas, saying that during the millennium, Mosaic law will be restored…These are called Judaical Millenarians, not as being Jews, but as having invented and upheld a millennium according to Jewish taste. The principal authors of this error were Nepos, an African Bishop, against whom St. Dionysius wrote his two books on Promises; and Apollinaris, whom St. Epiphanius confound in his work against heresies (Pagani, Giovanni Battista. Published by Charles Dolman, 1855. Original from Oxford University. Digitized Aug 15, 2006, pp. 252-253).

It should be of interest to note that neither Nepos nor Apollinaris were Jews, but were condemned for having a religion that had “Jewish” beliefs. And since Apollinaris is a Catholic saint (see article Apollinaris of Hierapolis), it should be clear that the respected and non-Jewish Christian leaders in the early third century clearly did hold to ideas that were condemned by the allegorists.

The following from Dionysius clearly shows that Nepos was still respected after he died (Nepos died prior to Dionysius’ mid-third century writing of the following) and really did not refute him from a biblical perspective:

But as they produce a certain composition by Nepos, on which they insist very strongly, as if it demonstrated incontestably that there will be a (temporal) reign of Christ upon the earth, I have to say, that in many other respects I accept the opinion of Nepos, and love him at once for his faith, and his laboriousness, and his patient study in the Scriptures, as also for his great efforts in psalmody, by which even now many of the brethren are delighted. I hold the man, too, in deep respect still more, inasmuch as he has gone to his rest before us. Nevertheless the truth is to be prized and reverenced above all things else. And while it is indeed proper to praise and approve ungrudgingly anything that is said aright, it is no less proper to examine and correct anything which may appear to have been written unsoundly. If he had been present then himself, and had been stating his opinions orally, it would have been sufficient to discuss the question together without the use of writing, and to endeavour to convince the opponents, and carry them along by interrogation and reply. But the work is published, and is, as it seems to some, of a very persuasive character; and there are unquestionably some teachers, who hold that the law and the prophets are of no importance, and who decline to follow the Gospels, and who depreciate the epistles of the apostles, and who have also made large promises regarding the doctrine of this composition, as though it were some great and hidden mystery, and who, at the same time, do not allow that our simpler brethren have any sublime and elevated conceptions either of our Lord’s appearing in His glory and His true divinity, or of our own resurrection from the dead, and of our being gathered together to Him, and assimilated to Him, but, on the contrary, endeavour to lead them to hope for things which are trivial and corruptible, and only such as what we find at present in the kingdom of God. And since this is the case, it becomes necessary for us to discuss this subject with our brother Nepos just as if he were present (Dionysius of Alexandria. From the Two Books on the Promises. Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight. Viewed 8/14/08).

In other words, Nepos knew his Bible, but did not hold to the same position that allegorists like Dionysius of Alexandria held. But those who held to Judaeo-Christian beliefs, while slightly chastised, simply were almost never condemned by the early allegorists. Mainly, because the early allegorists knew that the original Christians held to beliefs and practices that the allegorists considered to be Jewish–and at this stage, the allegorists simply did not have the ability to condemn the literalists because most who professed Christ at the time knew that the literalists had ties to the original apostolic church. (More information on faithful Christians in northern African locations can be found in the article Arabic Nazarenes May Have Kept Original Christian Practices.)

Africa has long had groups of people who have kept the seventh-day Sabbath. In the 21st century, there are Church of God groups throughout Africa.

The Continuing Church of God has many congregations in various African countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and Tanzania. We also have members/tentative supporters that we know of in Uganda, South Africa, Sudan, and elsewhere. I personally visited Africa back in 1985 and was able to visit Africa again in 2014 (information related to a conference held there is in the post CCOG Letter and Nairobi Conference).  It is likely that I will visit again within the next year or two.

The Continuing Church of God has sent songbooks, Bible News Prophecy magazines, other books, history booklets, literature, and other support to those in Africa. In addition to English, the Continuing Church of God has had literature, such as the Statement of Beliefs of the Continuing Church of God (see KATIKA LUGHA YA KISWAHILI) and our Study the Bible Course (see Somo 1 Katika Kiswahili), translated into Kiswahili which is the ‘linga-Franca’ in many nations in Africa.

While English is understood in many parts of Africa, it is often a second or third language.  Right now, in addition to English and Kiswahili, we have produced literature in Ekegusii and Dholuo.  We are currently also working on Chichewa and Zulu.

We also now have a YouTube channel called CCOGAfrica.  This channel features messages from ministers in Africa and mainly in African languages (see also CCOGAfrica YouTube channel now live!).

Africans are sometimes willing to stand up for what is right when others do not.

Some items of related interest may include:

Africa: Its Biblical Past and Prophesied Future What does the Bible teach about Africa and its future? Did the early Church reach Africa? Will God call all the Africans?
CCOGAfrica channel. This has messages from African pastors in African languages such as Kalenjin, Kiswahili, and Dholuo.
Did The Early Church Teach Millenarianism? Was the millennium (sometimes called chiliasm) taught by early Christians? Who condemned it? Will Jesus literally reign for 1000 years on the earth? Is this time near? Two related sermons are available Millennial Utopia and The Millennium.
God’s Grace is For All Is being Jewish a hindrance to salvation? What about not being a descendant of Israel? What does the Bible really teach? Here is a link to a related sermon titled Race and Grace; Do you view race as God does?
Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church? Here is a link to the booklet in the Spanish language: ¿Dónde está la verdadera Iglesia cristiana de hoy? Here is a link in the German language: WO IST DIE WAHRE CHRISTLICHE KIRCHE HEUTE? Here is a link in the French language: Où est la vraie Église Chrétienne aujourd’hui?
Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from Acts 2 to the 21st century. Related sermon links include Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D. and Continuing History of the Church of God: 4th-16th Centuries. The booklet is available in Spanish: Continuación de la Historia de la Iglesia de Dios, German: Kontinuierliche Geschichte der Kirche Gottes, and Ekegusii Omogano Bw’ekanisa Ya Nyasae Egendererete.



Get news like the above sent to you on a daily basis

Your email will not be shared. You may unsubscribe at anytime.