The diversity of cultures has made biblical hermeneutics a problem for both African churches and missionary churches. Since the apostolic period, many questions have arisen regarding the connection between the gospel and culture, as detailed in Acts 15: 1-14. In the African context, everything is more complicated, because religion and culture are intertwined in one way or another. Therefore, when one speaks about African religion, in the same way one must touch on cultural elements, the two cannot be completely separated.
However, the church needs to find ways to deal with culture in a way that energizes it without weakening its founding principles.
This essay advocates cultural adaptation that does not conflict with the core beliefs of Christianity. If cultural adaptation to the gospel is not properly integrated with Christianity, dissent is likely to result. Both African and Western Christians make accusations and counter-accusations of diluting Christianity. This leaves Christians and non-Christians alike in doubt as to which of the representatives of the early church profess the Christian faith.
One of the reasons for the spread of churches initiated by Africans was cultural/religious misunderstanding. Therefore, African Christians split from mainstream/missionary churches to found churches that they felt were culturally and contextually adapted to African needs and aspirations.
Most of the African-initiated churches arose when it became clear that Western missionary churches did not view Christianity from an African perspective. For most Africans, regardless of the nature of their religion, it touches all aspects of life, helping them cope with the challenges of everyday life.
The teachings of the missionaries were not related to the situation and life of people, most Africans wanted a Bible that was not only in the past and future, but also a Bible that would affect not only their religious fabric, but also their social, political life. household and cultural fabrics. Stan Nussbaum confirms this view that
Western missionaries carried the message of some of the things that the God of Israel did through Jesus many generations ago in an unimaginably distant place, and other things that he will do for us in the next world after we die. On the contrary, the founders of AIC announced the good news that the same God of Israel is doing something right here in Africa. He sends visions, calls prophets, empowers healers, loudly addresses Africans: “Here I am!”
Beliefs and ways of worship in many African communities have been largely either criticized or underestimated by missionary churches. For most Africans, this attitude was perceived as an abuse of their history and culture, and people without history and culture are “not people.”
It can be argued that some missionaries overlooked the obvious connection between some of the religious practices of the Old Testament and some African cultural practices. For example, many African communities have sacrificed animals; this was done to appease angry ancestors so that a specific problem facing the community, such as famine or drought, could be addressed.
Animal sacrifice is a topic that occurs in many books of the Old Testament, Genesis 22: 13-14, Abraham sacrificed a lamb caught in the thicket after God prevented him from sacrificing Isaac, and in Exodus 12: 12-27 Moses, at the direction of God, commanded the Israelites to kill the Passover lamb and Leviticus 4:35. The meaning can be different, the religious meaning of animal blood can be seen in two communities. But this practice was abolished by missionaries because it was considered contrary to Christianity. Because of all these misunderstandings, most African Christians felt they were losing their history and culture.
Thus, African-initiated church-building gained momentum because there were no demands to give up their culture in order to become a Christian. Moses at God’s direction commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Passover lamb and Leviticus 4:35. While circumstances and meaning may vary, the religious meaning of animal blood can be seen in two communities. But this practice was abolished by missionaries because it was considered contrary to Christianity. Because of all these misunderstandings, most African Christians felt they were losing their history and culture.
Africans wanted a church that bore witness in their local cultural context, a church that was more African. Most Africans felt that the missionary churches were extensions of the colonial powers but were spiritually disguised because most of the colonial powers in Africa had the jurisdiction of their government to protect and oversee the geographic expansion of missionary churches.
Although most of the first African churches were founded on the basis of political, social and economic emancipation, since 1910 the trend has somehow changed. in the spotlight. There was a need for a church that would translate and interpret the Christian faith in a manner that local residents could understand. As in the Old Testament, the Israelites felt connected to their God, He was God actively involved in their daily life, for example, God’s activity is seen in Genesis 12 when God called Abraham and told him to move to Canaan.
Most African Christians, too, longed for such an intimate religious experience with God, a God who could talk to them and take part in their joys and sufferings. As previously pointed out by Stan Nussbaum, a God who is doing something right here, not just in the past and after death.
In order for Christianity to remain connected and alive to other cultures, there is a need to use theological hermeneutics in accordance with the context of the community. Justin Upkong advocates biblical hermeneutics that is contextually and culturally related to the community it serves.
The fact that Africa has different cultures requires different approaches to interpreting and reading the Bible and other theological literature. Some African Christians who were members of missionary churches left and started their own churches because the approach that was used for biblical and theological hermeneutics was not available to them. This made many Africans feel that evangelism could have a greater impact if Africans could preach to their fellow Africans.
Many African Christians themselves have struggled to embrace and integrate some elements of their own culture into liturgical celebrations due to the longstanding perception of the incompatibility between African culture and Christianity, and this point of view has been passed down from generation to generation. Andrew Wall put forward an exploratory thought: “This question is as relevant to Africans as it is to Greek converts in the ancient Hellenistic world. Should we reject all of our history and culture when we become Christians.”
There are also counter-accusations that most African churches are making against most Western churches. One charge is that Western churches are accommodating to “syncretism.” in the form of modernity. Moral, spiritual, social, economic and political issues play a central role in the schism. Even in the mainstream churches, such as the African Anglican Church, there was a conflict with their mother church in England on the basis of morality / immorality, that is, the ordination of gays and lesbians to the priesthood.
Most Africans have a strong sense that most Western churches are too accommodated for modern secularism, but the adoption of African cultures to Christianity still seems uncivilized and contradictory to the main tenets of Christianity.
Some African Christians argue that the core values and beliefs of Christianity have been left to the public and they can choose what they think is right for them and not consider what is not. However, there are some personal decisions that go against the principles of Christianity. There is a sense of “betrayal” among some African Christians. from the Western Church, because the same teachings that were brought to the Africans by missionaries as “absolute truth.”
These are the same teachings that are viewed today as irrelevant or against human rights. Consequently, African churches believe that Western churches have lost their Christian “purity.” And they have no credibility to judge the adaptation of some elements of African culture to Christianity as appropriate or inappropriate.
To overcome the kind of differences that create constant conflicts between some African churches and Western churches, the concept of conceptualism proposed by Dwayne Elmer may make a difference. According to Duane, conceptualism allows you to have double vision, to see problems as the locals see them. This does not mean that a person should abandon their culture. Conceptualism removes stereotypical thinking in relation to another culture.
Cultural resistance is used not only in the political, economic and social spheres, but can also be used as a way to resist the doctrines of religion, and this can happen consciously or unconsciously. A current example occurred between the Kikuyu community and the East African Presbyterian Church, when a general assembly held on April 11-14, 2018 prohibited its members from participating in certain cultural events that were contrary to church principles, or rather the gospel.
Among the prohibited practices were: Mburi Chia Kiama (initiation of young people who wish to join a group of elders offering goats for slaughter; this is also the time when these young people are given advice on family matters, marriage / family and Kikuyu culture). Other prohibited practices were polygamy, female circumcision, witchcraft, etc., and a song called Geitha Mundu translated as “Greet another person.” When this song is sung, church members are asked to turn to those around them and say that they love them. Some church members took this as one way to encourage sex drive.
The reaction to the ban was that some members of the community resisted the ban, calling it an abuse of their cultural identity. One of the oldest commented, “We are not competing with the church by adopting our culture. In fact, we were born Kikuyu before we joined the mainstream churches. People can leave the church, but you will never stop being a Kikuyu.”
This statement implies that this group prioritizes cultural association over religious association, according to Tsemin Yang, the value of cultural association forms the basis on which a person achieves a sense of belonging and self-identification. It also becomes the reference point from which people interpret experiences, daily activities and ways of thinking. Although religious grouping cannot be ignored as irrelevant to the formation of people’s identity, nevertheless, it tends to focus on communitarian identity rather than the personality of the individual.
The comment made by the unnamed elder can be interpreted as a cultural group that resists being swallowed. through religious grouping and the formation of a new identity that is not used, there may be some resistance. John S. Mbiti believes that most Africans retain most of their culture when converting to their new religion if there is no conflict, however, this does not seem to be the case in the example above. Whether there is a conflict or not, Africans tend to stick to their culture and religion, and time and place cannot dictate that either.
Among the recently banned practices, female circumcision or clitorectomy stands out as one of the most controversial practices between the local community and missionary churches. Clitoridectomy is one of the socio-religious traditions in the Kikuyu community and has been controversial since 1920. In the same year, the Church of Scotland Mission prohibited its baptized church members and their families from practicing clitoridectomy for those who did not adhere to this rule. to the rule were either suspended or excommunicated.
In 1925, a Presbyterian African Church committee also enacted the same ban, followed by the African Inner Church in Kijab, which instructed church leaders to take an oath that they would not support such a practice. However, part of the group did not take the oath. The ban became the subject of controversy between the Kikuyu community and the missionary churches operating in the region, and the socio-religious issue took on a political overtones, with the result that some Kikuyu elders perceived it as a means of raising awareness of Kikuyu nationalism.
To this day, there are still questions about whether the prohibition of clitorectomy was made on a biblical or medical basis, the likely answer seems to have been found by Daniel Njoroge Caranja in his historical analysis of the problem in question, he mentions Dr. John W. Arthur, gynecologist, missionary missionary churches of Scotland. Arthur began educating members of the Kikuyu community about the dangers of this practice for medical reasons. Understandably, in those days, any local cultural practice could meet with opposition from missionaries, and any change the missionaries proposed was perceived as a hidden political agenda.
This begs the question: why is the church still encountering such strong opposition in this era? The era when the long political struggle between Western colonialists and indigenous Kenyans ended, and the era when Christianity spread to all corners of the continent. why is the church still facing such strong opposition in this era?
The era when the long political struggle between Western colonialists and indigenous Kenyans ended, and the era when Christianity spread to all corners of the continent. why is the church still facing such strong opposition in this era?
The era when the long political struggle between Western colonialists and indigenous Kenyans ended, and the era when Christianity spread to all corners of the continent. why is the church still facing such strong opposition in this era? The era when the long political struggle between Western colonialists and indigenous Kenyans ended, and the era when Christianity spread to all corners of the continent.
The picture of Christianity in Africa has changed. Major missionary-based churches have had a hard time being “irrelevant.” to spirituality, socio-economic and political sphere of people and not contextual. Cultural diversity requires different approaches to theology. There is no one perfect way to practice theology, as different contexts require suitable theology. The story of the Ethiopian eunuch is a springboard for the propaganda of inculturation. If Christians can unite, it will also be a testament to other religions that strive for unity with Christians. It is impossible to conduct dialogue with other religions when a Christian family still split. There is a need for acceptance and openness that any culture has something to offer in order to build unity in diversity within Christianity. Egocentrism and ethnocentrism are views that oppose unity in diversity and should not be ignored in our understanding of our culture and religion. One culture cannot be used as a balance for weighing other cultures, as it often leads to misjudgment of others simply because their culture does not fit my cultural frame of reference.