Christianity and African Culture

Early missionaries to Africa overcame many obstacles to reach people with the Gospel. Consider the number of spoken languages, or the culture gap between western missionaries and local people?  Furthermore, few missionaries were open to learning African ways of doing things and many sought to introduce western culture along with the gospel. Nevertheless, in the last fifty years we have seen unprecedented growth of Christianity in Africa, especially in Africa south of the Sahara.  The Christian Post says “Africa is leading the charge with 390 million Christians, more than three times 35yrs ago.” However this growth has its own challenges too.

image_small One of the major challenges to the advancement of the gospel in Africa is our cultural values and traditional beliefs that compromise biblical discipleship. Indeed we do have many positive cultural values, but when Adam fell in the Garden of Eden his culture was also stained. As Christians therefore, we need to commit ourselves to the task of transforming hearts but and cultural practices that do not match up to what the Bible teaches. The church in Africa needs to be doing more to help Christians think the way God thinks about ethnicity, politics, education, sicknesses, curses, sexuality, urbanization, technology, arts, science and literature. We can no longer blame all our problems on demons, ancestral spirits or curses. We need to broaden our biblical understanding in light of the world we are living in and apply biblical thinking to the practical problems of our life. We must embrace our role in renewing a culture that has been static for years.

As we seek to renew our culture, the church in Africa must not fall into trap of failing to distinguish between what is the kingdom of God and what is our culture. If we do this, we will fall into the same dilemma of the church that brought the gospel to Africa. Thinking they were Christian nations they neglected their backyards and went to the ends of the earth. They should have done the latter without neglecting their Jerusalem. Therefore, as Africa gets blessed with extraordinary church growth, let us also keep the zeal of the Great Commission and commit ourselves to the task of renewing our culture.

The African church has a role to play in bringing a new hope in Christ to the nations of Europe and Middle East and South East Asia. For our missionaries to be effective they must not carry the excess baggage of local culture that is good for our context but may be a barrier to others.  The apostle Paul put it this way, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law” (1 Cor. 9:20). As we do so let us not forget our own backyards of disgruntled youths, villages bound in traditional beliefs and people living in urban poor communities.  

Lawrence Temfwe