Survey of Christian African Descent to African Americans Today

The Lord has used people from different nations, races, and cultures to proclaim his message to the world.  This article will focus on African Christian history, historic African teachers, modern orthodox African American teachers, the need for this ministry focus, the identity of being Christian, discerning racial favoritism, and reacting to racism.

Basic History of Early Christianity in Parts of Africa

(Central) Congo region – Christianity was brought to the Congo in 1483 and was made the state religion in the 16th century.  Despite this, the Congo was a key location for the early slave trade and was even practiced within the Congo locally before the arrival of Portuguese missionaries. David Livingstone
(1813-1873) continued to pursue the African people and opposed the slave trade.

(Eastern) Ethiopia region –  Acts 8:26-38 records the conversion of an Ethiopian court official or even the Queen herself. The Apostle Matthew did mission work in Ethiopia as well. Christianity was declared the state religion in 330AD.  Frumentius (4th century-383AD) was directly influenced by Athanasius of Alexandria and lived in Ethiopia for ministry work.  By the 5th century, the established Christian church in Ethiopia aligned themselves with The Coptic Orthodox Church over the nature of Christ and harassment from the Roman Catholic Church.
(Western) Nigeria and Benin region – The Portuguese came in contact with these regions as early as the 15th century.  Christian influence faded away until the 19th century when Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries returned.
(Southern) South Africa – In 1488 a limestone cross was erected in Cape Town.  In 1618 the a Dutch Synod declared that any slave baptized should be freed. In 1685 the Dutch church had established missions in South Africa. Sotho King Moshoeshoe, king of the majority ethnic group of that time, stated that only the Christian teachings are the rules of life in his kingdom. His death in 1870 ushered in British colonialism in that region.
(North Western) Mauritania – These people groups were not evangelized until late in Christian history.  In the 8th century Islamic merchants began converting the people in this region.  It was part of French Colonization and became independent in 1960.  There were a few Roman Catholic settlements but never had great influence.

The majority of early African Christian influence came from North African regions such as Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia but began to fall away after the Council of Chalcedon. Then after the disagreement with the two natures of Jesus Christ (451AD), came the spread of Islam (7th century), the foreign slave trade, and colonialism (18th century).  These phases of history stifled the development of sound Christian leaders of African decent.  It was not until the Christendom wide abolitionist and equality efforts with focused missionary efforts over the centuries that allowed for those of distinct African decent to be able to develop.

Historic Teachers of African Descent:
Athanasius of Alexandria (Born in Egypt) (296 – 373)
Augustine of Hippo (Born in North Africa) (354 – 430)
(the schism of Coptic and Ethiopian churches from Orthodox churches following the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 regarding the Natures of Christ (Hypostatic Union).  Most North African teachers rejected the Chalcedon Creed and there were few affirming North African teachers until The Great Awakening in the 18th century)
George Liele – Emancipated slave, Baptist pastor, missionary to Jamaica (1750-1820)
Phillis Wheatley – Born in West Africa, sold into slavery, brought to America as a slave and later Emancipated.  Wast the first published African American poet with sound understanding of true Christianity. (1753-1784)
Lemuel Haynes – He was an indentured servant and was freed in 1777.  He was part of the American Revolution, became a sound preacher in Vermont and was a stout Abolitionist (1753 – 1833)
Henry Highland Garnet – Born into slavery and later escaped to New York.  He was an abolitionist and was the pastor of the first African American Presbyterian church (though he had extreme political views and advocated for violence) (1815-1882).
Francis Grimke – His ather was a slave owner and mother was a slave.  When his father died they moved, and he later became a Presbyterian minister to helped found the NAACP (1852-1937).
Eugene St. Clair Callender – He was the first African American to study at the Westminster Theological Seminary where he later became a Presbyterian pastor and civil rights activist (1926-2013).
Martin Luther King Jr. – He was a Baptist pastor and civil rights activist who taught nonviolent civil disobedience to injustices (1929-1968).

Modern Sound African American Teachers
Eric Mason
Thabiti Anyabwile
Voddie Baucham
Jemar Tisby
Tony Carter
Trillia Newbel
Bryan Loritts
Tony Evans
Jackie Hill Perry

Cultural and Race Focused Ministries
Thriving
Reformed African American Network
The Kainos Movement
Kingdom Agenda Pastors
The Urban Alternative 
CRU: Impact
Rafiki African Ministry

The Need
Cultural and racial focused ministries are important for a number of reasons: some individuals within their culture and race refuse to seek any thing outside of their heritage. Others are reminded of the past and do to see the love of Christ due to racism.  Thus, when God does call someone out of their culture and race, they can be highly effective interments for God in those specific areas. 

They are living proof that God does understand their uniqueness and has chosen someone they can relate to; so that they can hear the perfectly unifying eternal message of The Gospel and see the love of God through Jesus Christ in their own culture. 

Even though the Gospel Message is colorless, non-cultural specific, and universal for all people, some hearers are not; and the most effective way to reach them is with the Gospel message because the messenger relates specifically to them and understands their culture directly. This is why it is important for Christians that come from African descent and African American culture to be sound in doctrine and be an instrument for God in this specific area. 

Also read All Christians Are Missionaries

The Dangers
Because of human nature, this need and the various approaches, can be corrupted.  The strategies and messages can become man-centered and divisive.  An extreme amount of focus can rest too much on cultural and racial issues that it alienates the rest of the church who are from other cultural and racial backgrounds.  The message can morph into such a drastic focus on race that the primary message becomes solely about race instead of The Gospel Message like Black Liberation Theology. From there other teachings develop and generate heresies like the The Hebrew Roots Movement.

Also read The Test of the spirit

Identity
Orthodox Christianity, according to scripture, makes it clear that our identity is in Christ, not our cultural or racial background. That we are to care for all people in the church and not just those of our own background (1 Corinthians 12:25). Christ is the head of whole church body, which unifies us (Ephesians 1:22-23) and Jesus Christ’s message is for all people and not one culture or race (Matthew 28:19-20).  God does not show favoritism over one race or another, and neither should we (Deuteronomy 10:17; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9). Just as Christ loved all people from different backgrounds, he wants us to do the same (John 3:16; 13:34). Even though race has been, and is still, used as a divisive form of humanistic god-like control over others and used to oppress others; we are still commanded to forgive each other (Ephesians 4:32) and be merciful (James 2:13). Understand that we are uniquely made, culturally and racially, and are to be instruments for God and proclaiming his unifying universal message (Romans 6:13).

Discerning Racial Favoritism
Knowing if what is taught, in regards to culture and race specific issues, is of God or of carnal agendas can be determined by asking 3 questions:  

  1. Does the messenger use their culture and race as an instrument relate to those whom they seek to proclaim the Gospel? Is Christ magnified?
  2. Does to message unite the church as a whole and bring those who are sought into the church universal body? Is the Church of all races and cultures unified?
  3. Does the message lead people to focus on Christ for their identity and encourage sacrificial love for others? Are people taught to be defined by Christ and their love for others?

With out The Gospel message, unifying peace seeking efforts, and eternal selfless sacrificial love for all people, the message is carnal, vain, spiritually empty, and ultimately divisive.  Those who are divisive and perpetuate racial favoritism and racism need to be held accountable.


Also read The Beauty of Accountability | How Spiritually Old Are You?

How are Christians called to react to Racism?
Matthew 5:44 is the fundamental place to start.  Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Christian love is NOT conditional and based upon the actions of others.  Even in the face of injustice we are still called to do good and glorify God through it (1 Peter 2:18-20; Titus 2:9-11).   

Also read Rioting Christians? | God and The Government

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