Relationship between african culture and christianity

relationship between african culture and christianity

The relationship between Christianity and African culture has been construed in many ways. Some see Christianity and African culture as representing rival. and African culture, other African Christians are in the process daily of shaping a Christianity that will .. What is the relationship between the. Christian faith and. The relationship between Christianity and culture is a perennial problem. The proliferation of African* Instituted Churches is a manifestation of that crisis.

There is no doubt that the message of Christianity brought by the Europeans was coated with Western culture and taught with a kind of imperialist nuance. In most instances, the message Africans received from the missionaries was that their culture and traditional practices were no good. A Socio-Theological Critical Survey. The Contribution of the Pioneers, Vol. Paulines Publications Africa, One will have to say that they were Westernizing more than Christianizing and they might have done this consciously or unconsciously but the fact is that they identified European culture with Christianity.

It is obvious from the fruits of their works that they imposed Western culture on the African people and their culture, resulting in their denial of their cultural heritage. For them, as they were taught, you either be a Christian or a traditionalist.

Hence those who saw the good in the message of Christ and embraced it but still want to maintain their cultural heritage had to resort to a kind of schizophrenic life.

They practise Christianity during the day and go during the night to participate in their cultural rituals and ceremonies. This phenomenon raises a big theological question for African Christians on how to understand the relationship between the message of Christ and cultures of those that receive it. There is need for answers and to give an informed one, there is need to critically explore what culture is and how we can understand the message of Christ that comes in contact with different cultures.

Orbis Books,viii. People are born into cultures to which they identify themselves with. Culture forms many aspects of our lives and is evident in the way we eat, our clothes, our beliefs, our language, our values and vices, etiquettes, etc.

It is also the case that we always refer to our cultural codes in making certain decisions in life; it is the reference book containing unwritten codes that we always have recourse to. The Israelite nation understands that God accepts them in their culture, so they worshiped and made rituals to God basing from their cultural understanding of the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the covenant with Noah, 34 theologians see all humanity being called to God and of course they can only come to God from the different cultural backgrounds in which the scattered children of Noah found themselves.

Perhaps, the Incarnation is the most substantial prove that God accepts us in our human culture. Christ grew up in this Jewish culture and appropriated the religious and cultural values of His Jewish origins.

African Culture in Black Christianity

Christianity was borne out of the Jewish culture and religion Judaism. The early Christians were Jews, who still believed in their culture and took part in their religio-cultural practices like going to the synagogues to pray and worship; celebrating the ritual of the Passover; and partaking in other Jewish home rituals as stipulated in the law and the prophets and as believed to have been ordained by God himself.

One does not 31 See further Barker, C. Central Problems and Critical Debates. Humanity as the Divine Image. Online article,available at [http: The Message of Christ and Cultures If culture is a way of life of people ordained by God, one can then ask: Is it because the message of Christ cannot fit into these receptor cultures without annihilating them?

Some people obviously thought so among whom are the early missionaries to Africa; however let us also note that the same problem reared its ugly head during the early days of Christianity. The Apostles of Christ and early Christians came in contact with people of other cultures right from the beginnings.

Hence, there were cultural problems in the early Church of the Acts of the Apostles, between the gentiles who accepted the message of Christ and the Jewish followers of Christ. The problem was that some Jewish Christian elders wanted the gentile converts to become circumcised and also to jettison some of their cultural practises and accept the Jewish ones.

Their reason was that it should be so since Christianity was born into the Jewish tradition and assumes its religious worldview. However, the Apostles and elders meeting at the first council at Jerusalem were enlightened to realize the problem in asking people to leave their cultural identity and accept that of the Jews because they wanted to accept the message of Christ. So they ruled that circumcision was not necessary for Christians, but that they should abstain from cultural practices that involved idolatry and immorality.

In effect they were able to discern that the message of Christ is not culturally bound as Peter had earlier asserted that in any culture anyone who receives Christ pleases God and is saved.

Brill, Catholic Truth Society, Hence, Christianity can find a way of growth in any culture but this can only be possible, if the evangelizers of the Christian message adopt the approach of the Apostles of Christ.

It is hampered when, these evangelizers like some missionaries to Africa cannot not distinguish between their own cultural bias and the Christian message they bear. It is this failure that has resulted in the conflict between Christianity and the African culture. Considering what we have explored so far, one wonders why the early missionaries to Africa were so convinced of the superiority of Western culture as to disregard local cultures. We have seen that the early Christians, who spread the Gospel of Christ, did not employ the method of destroying cultures, but one of sowing the seed of Christianity within the culture to let it grow to maturity.

Although they might have felt strongly about their culture as surely anyone doesthey understood the cultural problem. They preached the essential kerygma and let the Spirit make it grow in a way that reflected it in the shape of the local culture. Hence they taught only what Christ taught and allowed the message to sanitize whatever element in the culture of the people was contrary to the message brought by Christ; as evidently not all tenets of African culture agree with the message of Christ, since culture is a human construct and revealed religion is a divine construct.

This is so if we agree that God works His ways through every culture and if we also acknowledge that the message of Christ can find root and grow in any culture. There is need to re-evaluate this issue in order to find a way forward to rectify the mistake of the missionaries and hence solve the conflict between Christianity and African cultures, so that African Christians could be proud to call themselves true Africans and true Christians. Many traditional notions people had about God can then be rejuvenated by integrating them with, and applying them to the supreme God worshipped by both traditionalists and Christians, and thus emancipate them from the shackles of early missionary methodology coated with western culture under the agenda of the colonial masters.

Re-presenting the Gospel by divesting it of non-essential elements and concentrating on the person of Jesus Christ can foster a reflection on what is acceptable in the moral code of the local people that does not contrast with Gospel values.

The consequence should also be a re-thinking of the ways to worship and to administer the Sacraments in rituals that carry the proper symbolism for the people and reflect the inner theology of the sacred actions. They adhere to the early teachings of the missionaries and have refused to accept the fact that people can retain their cultural identity and still belong to Christ.

In fact, the natives have good names, most of which are traditional religious names that tell of the great works of God in their lives; so why should they not be allowed to use such names? People should be allowed to use names that have meaning for them and show a focus in their lives. There is a great need for re-catechizing the people in order to make them realize the positive aspects of their culture, which God has ordained, and that they can come to Christianity in the way they are.

Those who are in charge of catechesis at parish levels should be first re-catechized so as to empower them to reach out and sensitize people to no longer be ashamed of their cultural identity. They need to be told that God accepts us the way we are whilst calling us to repentance, change of evil ways and faith in Christ. They should be taught that the message of Christ can always find root and bear fruit in our African cultures, just as Christ the Son of God took flesh and became human first among Jews and now asks that He becomes flesh in our cultures in order 11 to transform them, not to annihilate them.

However, DomNwachukwu notes that the re- evangelization and re-catechizing will demand dialogical interactions; and this will lead us to see that dialogue and inculturation are important in resolving this issue. The aim is to find ways of inculturation through which the two can meet in a mutual relationship. In order to understand how this call can be realized in the Igbo situation, there is need to look at the Igbo traditional religious worldview which was overlooked by some missionaries and some of the elements that are causing great problems today in the Church in Igboland.

Igbo Traditional Religio-Cultural Practises in Conflict Seeking Understanding Ndigbo have strong traditional religious background and also valuable cultural practices. The concept of a supreme God is not alien to the Igbo religious psyche; they refer to the supreme God as Chukwu Big God. The rituals and festivals of Ndigbo are thus geared towards the worship of God and reverence of the gods and ancestors of the land.

According to this perspective, it is a mistake to view religions including Christianity as 'logically coherent systems' Barker, in Scott Barker models all religions as loose congeries of ideas and practices from which people pick up - and just as readily put down again - piecemeal bits as "flexible tools" for problem solving. Barker disputes anthropological opposition of the categories of Christianity and traditional religion as a distortion and even tantamount to ethnocentric essentialist understandings of 'Us' and 'Them' Barker Rather, Christianity is viewed contextually as not radically different from the wider environment of popular religions with which it interacts Scott In contrast, Robbins understands Christianity to possess a unique 'cultural logic', which once inserted in an indigenous system can change things beyond prior indigenous expectations.

In this vein, Robbins Some of these leading features, discernible across all contexts in the comparative anthropology of Christianity, as mentioned by Scott Even more pertinently he seems to suggest that Robbins in effect exhibits some of the same tendencies criticised by Cannell see aboveas the following statement indicates: In practice, the profile of Christianity drawn by Robbins often looks more like an artefact of the co-development of Protestant Christianity and European modernity than the portable social scientific understanding of Christianity he identifies as the goal of comparison.

Although it is all very illuminating, I lack the space to comment on this in detail. Rather, I want to propose ways in which theological treatises on world Christianity might fruitfully contribute to this discussion. In spite of the intellectual appeal of Milbank's radical orthodoxy, which turns its back on the social sciences, the reality is that when scholars of theological background endeavour to do research into Christian history and contemporary world Christianity, we inevitably become involved in comparable situations to what the secular anthropologists of Christianity face.

Therefore, it makes more sense to engage with them on an interdisciplinary level, especially where some of them seem inclined to also be open to theological insights. In particular, I want to refer to the 'indigenising' and 'pilgrim' principles of the missiologist and historian of Christianity, Andrew F. In an important essay, republished in his prize-winning Missionary movement in Christian history, Walls The first of these tendencies, Walls calls the indigenising principle.

He gives the following explanation: The impossibility of separating an individual from his social relationships and thus from his society leads to one unvarying feature in Christian history: Therefore, indigenisation becomes not only a possibility, but effectively a requirement for followers across divergent cultures to be authentic disciples of Jesus. Recognising this point does not make indigenisation non-controversial, however.

Missionaries have generally appreciated its effectiveness as an indigenous church planting strategy, especially since the theological implications of the 'three selfs' self-govern, self-support and self-propagate as advocated by Henry Venn see Shenk and Rufus Anderson see Beaver became better understood.

Controversy, however, ensued when local Christian converts lay claim to the process and often wanted to indigenise Christianity much more thoroughly than the missionaries or the mission educated church leaders were prepared to go. The well-known phenomenon of African Independent Christianity in the 20th century, particularly Zionists in southern Africa and the various prophet-healing movements across the continent, was partly the result of an indigenisation from below, whereby charismatic visionaries and their followers rebelled against the often limiting control exercised by missionaries and mission-educated elites.

Whereas Walls' indigenising principle would tend to lend interdisciplinary support to the above-mentioned anti-essentialist view of certain anthropologists of Christianity, the second principle, known as the pilgrim principle, shows somewhat more affinity with the culture theory understanding of Robbins et al.

The difference between the two principles can be summarised as follows: Not only does God in Christ take people as they are [indigenising principle].

He takes them in order to transform them into what He wants them to be [pilgrim principle]. There is no 'abiding city' for the Christian and being faithful to Christ might mean being out of step with wider society, 'for that society never existed, in East or West, ancient or modern, which could absorb the word of Christ painlessly into its system' Walls To conclude this section, I mention that Walls also refers to the indigenising principle as that which affirms the particulars of any culture and group, whereas the pilgrim principle might be considered a universalising factor.

relationship between african culture and christianity

This is further explained in reference to the whole history of the church and the biblical Israel. This is both a general statement about the nature of Christian history and its common sourcebook, the Bible, as well as a theological affirmation about what it means to be church.

Notably, Walls does not seek to define or narrowly describe what specific Christian universals might look like. A shrewd interpreter of history and culture, Walls would realise that such an attempt, which would be comparable to Robbins' 'leading features' see abovemight very well tend to prioritise his own indigenised Christian values and thus defeat the purposes of the pilgrim principle.

Crucially for Walls, the two principles, although in tension with one another, are equally important in the totality of Christian history.

relationship between african culture and christianity

Therefore, the abovementioned tension identified by Scott in the writings of Robbins and Barker might be no other than analogous anthropological versions of Walls' pilgrim and indigenising principles.

Christianity shares common ground across cultures, but it also diversifies and accommodates itself to local patterns of thought and practice. Anthropologists of Christianity invariably tend to notice one aspect rather than another. However, an appreciation of paradox, which is inherent to Christian theology, might be required to comprehensively describe Christianity in its contextual formation cf. Furthermore, when discussing Christianity, no matter how contextually local, one neglects the historical dimension at one's peril.

I shall now discuss certain issues dealing with the interaction between missionary Christianity and indigenous knowledge systems in southern and central Africa to further elucidate the concepts mentioned above. Globalisation vs indigenous systems in southern Africa: Some bones of contention In hindsight, it seems that an early phase of globalisation was introduced to southern Africa as elsewhere as a consequence of the European colonial enterprise see Hopkins As a result of this, Africans became drawn into a global market economy.

They were not free agents of course. In the case of slavery, which is the extreme form of the general subjection that took place under colonialism, Africans were effectively de-humanised and turned into currency to be traded and bartered.

This painful history is well-known and we are still living with its lingering consequences today. Apartheid was a form of exploitation in the service of an agricultural or mining economy, which demanded a constant supply of the cheapest forms of manual labour, which were provided by Black Africans in South Africa see Fredrickson The ones who gained from those early forms of globalisation were mostly White Europeans and colonial era White settlers of European descent.

Owing to the drastically skewed power relations, the beneficiaries of colonialism were also nearly omnipotent in terms of laying down the rules of normativity regarding knowledge, values and so on.

One important implication of this is that from a purely commercial perspective, which was a strong factor within this system, Africans themselves had very little, if any, intrinsic value attached to them.

Their value resided in categories of instrumentality linked to their usefulness for cheaply fuelling the engine of the emergent global economy. Therefore indigenous systems of knowledge ISK stood no chance of being recognised as intrinsically valuable by the normative patterns of early globalisation. Similar to the Africans who represented and expounded them, ISK might however receive recognition for their instrumental value; in other words in the ways they could serve the purposes of the global system and the interests of those who determined its direction.

This is where Christianity also enters the picture. With varying degrees of commitment and success it played a counteracting or at least softening role to the otherwise ruthless impetus of unbridled commercialism.

However, missionary Christianity might indeed be seen as an important cog in the wheel of colonialism Bosch Through its distribution of European systems of medicine, education and religiosity, missionary Christianity was a powerful agent not only for the gospel as chiefly intended, but also for the cultural goods of western civilisation more generally.

It was especially the secular aspects of mission, which for example in the case of Dutch Reformed missionary work in Nyasaland included medicine, education, agriculture and carpentry, amongst other things see Murray When one takes the view that the market determines our values to a large extent in capitalist societies, and unfortunately I think there is a good case to be made for that, then it becomes apparent that the dubious value of utility reigns supreme, also where it comes to people.

Christianity, through the contributions of the colonial missionary enterprise, must be viewed as irrevocably intertwined with globalisation. The fact of the matter is that Christianity was partly responsible for the construction of globalisation as we know it today. As in the case of the relationship between Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and his monster, Christianity and globalisation cannot be that easily dichotomised and separated from one another. They are bound together even if the relationship is sometimes somewhat uneasy.

So from the above-sketched perspective, missionary Christianity has certainly not been a friend to ISK. There is however, a different side to this story. It is one thing to suggest, as I have done, that Christianity and globalisation have been historically enmeshed with one another. It would be quite another to equate them as if they were more or less like two sides of the same coin, or even worse, that Christianity was only a kind of secondary contributing factor to globalisation cf.

That would be a misrepresentation.

Christianity has in fact displayed a great deal of ambiguity in the ways it interacted with local patterns of thought and custom. Far from generating a generically westernised Christian culture, the so-called Mcdonaldization effect that typifies certain forms of globalisation see Ritzera plurality of indigenous Christianities has emerged worldwide since the 20th century, as particularly recognised, for example, by the abovementioned anti-essentialist perspective in contemporary anthropology of Christianity.

It is my contention that whilst the secular aspects of the missionary enterprise have, generally speaking, presented themselves as the unmitigated foes of ISK, the religious aspect had a more ambiguous role. On the one hand, many missionaries tended to regard the African religious traditions they encountered as tantamount to demonic possession, which had to be eradicated at all costs.

In some cases, they also severely disrupted traditional kinship affiliations and family life by forcing potential converts to forgo their polygamous marital relations as a precondition for baptism, which often caused much anguish see Retief On the other hand, the more sensitive amongst the missionary ranks were able to recognise within these traditions elements of grace.

Put differently, some elements of African Traditional Religion, such as the general belief in a Supreme Deity, as well as existent creation myths and other aspects of their moral and spiritual cosmologies, were taken to constitute a kind of preparatio evangelica, which could be utilised as points of contact for the gospel see Murray It is therefore interesting to note that the value of preparatio evangelica, which was the best possible conception that missionaries tended to have of African religious traditions, especially in that it emphasised the origins of humanity as springing forth from 'common blood' Murray However, something unexpected happened.

As they converted to Christianity, Africans also tended to convert the character of the faith they were adopting through the medium of vernacular languages.

As African peoples became Christian, Christianity became African at the local level. Far from remaining at the level of a preparatio evangelica, the African religious traditions continued to inform and interact with Christianity in a kind of on-going hybridity that is especially apparent in some forms of African Initiated Christianity, but not restricted to those.

Let me now mention some specific examples of Christian opposition to or interaction with ISK. I want to consider a couple of issues missionaries confronted when they entered the field. I have read some biographical and autobiographical accounts of lateth and earlyth century Afrikaner missionaries to Nyasaland and Mashonaland, so this is what I refer to in this section, although related themes were occurring across sub-Saharan Africa.

The poison cup One issue that missionaries to Nyasaland opposed quite fiercely was the use of the 'poison cup' mwabvi Murray The 'poison cup' was a widely distributed judiciary method used to determine an accused party's guilt or innocence, particularly when the use of sorcery or witchcraft was suspected.

Furthermore, whenever a traditional ruler was faced with the problem of solving a tricky legal dispute, the 'poison cup' could be administered as a way of uncovering the truth. The accused party takes a drink from the cup.

Should they die as a result of drinking the concoction, which was made from the extract of the bark of a certain tree, then their death would prove their guilt. Should they survive, it would prove their innocence on the other hand.

The poison cup was administered not only when a ruler had to adjudicate on matters brought before them, but a ruler could also use the cup when their own position was threatened. When a ruler believed that their opponents were conspiring to overthrow them, they might rely on the wisdom of the cup to sort out between those loyal and treacherous amongst their subjects. This practice is a clear example of an ISK at odds with both Western empiricism and missionary ethics. From the point of view of the ISK, the efficacy of the poison cup had little to do with the empirical reality of poison entering the bloodstream, destroying the cells of the organism which imbibed it.

The efficacy of the cup resided at a metaphysical level. Death or survival was related to the gods' or ancestors' protection of or withdrawal from a person so tested by the trial of the cup. From the missionaries' point of view, however, the incidence of death or survival as a result of the poison cup was a purely random matter, having to do with the relative strength or weakness of the accused's overall constitution.

Naturally, the missionaries opposed this practice both on empirical and ethical grounds.

Africans Why Do You Follow Christianity?

Undoubtedly, these Dutch Reformed Church missionaries displayed little in the way of intercultural sensitivity in their attempts at the eradication of a custom they considered irredeemably evil. Nonetheless, because this was a matter of life and death, one would be hard pressed to fault the Christian mission for their strong opposition to the poison cup.

Contemporary Malawian Christians I have asked about this also voiced their agreement. Therefore, might it be appropriate with the benefit of hindsight to point to early Christian opposition to the poison cup as an example of Andrew Walls' pilgrim principle at work?

Rain rituals It is important not to romanticise ISK. The reality is that it served certain purposes in African societies, which were often closely linked to upholding the authority of a traditional, often despotic ruler. The abovementioned case of the poison cup illustrates this.

Another example, which in my opinion also serves as one of the best illustrations of hybridity in African indigenous Christianity, concerns the case of rain prayers and rituals.

This might also be indicated as exemplary of Walls' indigenising principle at work in Africa. In an often water-stressed part of the world, rain rituals served important religious and political purposes. It was the responsibility of traditional rulers to secure rain at appropriate times for the well-being of the people under their charge. Either the rulers themselves or a rain specialist appointed by them would be entrusted with the task of administering certain rituals to ask for rain at seasonally determined times or in special cases when the need became particularly pressing.

But there have been many others, both in the past and in the present. The political security of a ruler often depended on their perceived ability to be successful in the procurement of rain.

Historically, there have been cases of rulers losing their hold over people as a result of an insufficient success rate in this matter see Schapera For self-explanatory reasons, I think this aspect of ISK had lesser potential for being manipulated for selfish political purposes by rulers and ritual specialists than the abovementioned poison cup. Not surprisingly, missionary responses to the issue of rain calling rituals have been much more ambivalent.

Amongst the London Missionary Society, some, such as Robert Moffat, who was a missionary amongst the Tswana people, vehemently opposed it and derided it as ignorant superstition. Others saw in it an opportunity. Recognising that the ritual depended on the benevolence of a transcendental power or powers, certain more culturally sympathetic missionaries, such as Johannes van der Kemp amongst the Xhosa, stepped into the role of rain specialist themselves by praying to the Christian God for rain at critical junctures in their relationships with the people Hastings There are also reports of such actions by Dutch Reformed missionaries and evangelists in Nyasaland and Mashonaland Louw Successful rain prayers often served as a strong catalyst for conversion to Christianity as it apparently helped to convince many people of the superior power of the Christian God and of the credibility of the missionaries.

Retief, for example, mentioned the interesting case of a powerful 'rain goddess' by the name of O Cauwa who lived near Mkhoma mission station. In a year of poor rainfall the mission church council decided to have a prayer meeting. The 'rain goddess' apparently then decided to schedule her own prayers and accompanying ritual for the exact day and time as the Christian prayer meeting, because she claimed that if the rains fell after the Christian prayer, then they would receive all the credit for it rather than she.

This explanation of a rain specialist possibly becoming increasingly convinced of Christian superiority in her area of expertise is not entirely without grounds, given the fact that she later converted to Christianity and was baptised after a prayer campaign by the Mkhoma Christians to achieve this very end.