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History of Christianity in Africa

QUESTION: What is the history of Christianity in Africa?


The history of Christianity in Africa probably began during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, two thousand years ago. The New Testament of the Bible mentions several events in which Africans were witnesses to the life of Christ and the ministry of the apostles. It is possible that the history of Christianity in Africa began when these Africans shared what they witnessed with other Africans.

The Gospel of Luke records that a Cyrenian was compelled to bear the cross for Jesus, prior to Jesus' crucifixion. Cyrene was located in North Africa. The book of Acts records that, on the day of Pentecost, Egyptians and Cyrenians were among the crowd, and heard the apostles proclaim the Gospel in their native languages. Acts also records the conversion of an influential Ethiopian eunuch to Christianity. Finally, the book of Acts records that following the apostles missionary journey to Cyprus, new converts from Cyprus and Cyrene preached the Gospel to the Greeks of Antioch.

The spread of Christianity throughout Egypt and Northern Africa, during the first five centuries was rapid and intense, despite the prevalence of false teachings, persecutions and martyrdom. Some religious scholars believe that Christianity was introduced to Africans by way of the Egyptian city of Alexandria. Reportedly, the city boasted a very large Jewish community, which was located in close proximity to Jerusalem. It is believed that African Jews in Alexandria were converted from Judaism to Christianity following a Jewish revolt in A.D. 115 that all but extinguished Judaism from the region.

North Africans were the first to receive and embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The early church in North Africa went through severe persecutions A.D. 64 thru 311. In response, the church established the Catechetical Schools of Alexandria, among other similar schools of Christian instruction. Many significant leaders of the faith emerged from the early African church.

Persecutions in Egypt resulted in the dispersion of Christians to the innermost regions of Egypt. Egyptian churches spread the Gospel in the Coptic (Egyptian) language and planted churches throughout the interior of Egypt. However, Christianity, in the region, was weakened by theological and doctrinal controversies.

At the start of the seventh century, the Coptic Church had established itself as the national church and had penetrated every region of the country. Although Christianity began in North Africa several centuries before its introduction in Egypt, the church in North Africa did not grow as quickly because the North African church used the Latin language in its services and literature, rather than the language of the people.

An influx of muslins into the continent of Africa, during the Middle Ages, resulted in an exponential increase in Islamic converts, which forced many African Christians to flee to Europe. Missionary efforts by the Roman Catholic Church and the European Protestant church reclaimed some of the African continent for Christ, however Islam remains the predominant religion on the continent, with Christians comprising just over thirty percent of the African population.

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