Nnaemeka Ali, O.M.I
Rescuing the African Church from the Theological Cowboys?
The mainstream Churches in Africa will face a serious problem if they fail to redefine their priorities. In countries where these mainstream Churches were once dominant, recent events have shown that they only have two options : reform themselves or bow out.
At this point, the greatest temptation will be remind me that the gate of hell shall never prevail over the Church. But, let’s not get into that exegesis today, for the truth is that we are often made to believe that the Church has always been this way, when in truth, every Church has evolved by adapting herself to her time and clime.
Let’s consider the preoccupations of the first Christian communities. You see, our major problem is that beyond the repetitive catechism we learn in our catechism classes and Sunday schools, little time is consecrated to learning the sociological problems that gave birth to every thing around our doctrines and beliefs.
At the beginning of Christianity, no one cared about the right vestments during their Jewish oriented liturgical activities. And there was nothing about the right or wrong posture during their non-institutionalized prayer sessions. They only became necessary with the change of time.
Even what we know as the Bible today was the first Christian communities’ response to their sociological problems. Paul, the first Christian author, was surely not mandated by a heavenly emissary to write any of his 7 (not 13) letters. Each letter was a response to a sociological need of a church of his time.
The authors of the Gospels, contrary to what we commonly think, were surely not reporting word by word what Jesus did or said. They were Church leaders confronted by questions of their communities. Each of their Churches had her particular problems and needs forcing the authors to present the Christ-event in line with these questions and realities of their communities.
Then came the second and the third centuries, and Church contact with the ancient philosophy. The Church at this point had left its initial place of birth — Jerusalem — and was courting Greek philosophy and the Western civilization. And through their intellectuals, we got both the theological categories and our social doctrines of the church. Many church dogmas and laws were also initiated, well enrobed in western jurisprudence, philosophy, and anthropology.
Then followed by Augustin, Thomas Aquinos and many other who were versed in the western philosophy and anthropology. These scholars made sure that the Church speak both the language, and to the people of their society. The same thing could be said of the modern European theologians.
But in Africa, we continue to glorify what Dr Fohle Lygunda calls “the contextualized theology from western theology” instead of “the contextualized African theology”. We keep on translating Jesus-event meant for another Church (needs and questions) for our people. We keep giving them a borrowed prescription instead of diagnosing their real problem. Repeating a question meant for another period and clime.
Today, the rise of Pentecostalism has proven that we have failed in our theology. It exposes our empty God quest and the dryness of our theology. And all our speculations in the field are borrowed from other heavens.
Yet, the Pentecostalism shouldn’t rejoice as it’s, in its actual state, a failed project. It’s simply a bomb waiting to burst any time. This is thus the time to rescue the African Church from the theological cowboys.