The Centrality of Africa

Posted by Dr. Dan Steere on

The Centrality of Africa

We Americans tend to take a Western view of the history of the Church. And, as Reformed believers, our focus on the Reformation can cause us to view all of Church History through that lens. However, we need to remember the Protestant Reformation took place some 1,500 years AFTER the founding of the New Testament Church. When we go back to early Church History, we do see something of a European direction to the Church’s growth. Paul’s missionary efforts moved from Asia Minor into Europe – through Macedonia and Greece and eventually to Italy. That familiar trajectory leads to Roman Catholicism, the Reformation, and the Puritans settling in America. However, the gospel moved powerfully in other directions, as well. History and Church tradition teach us that the gospel moved east, as well as, west, traveling during the Apostolic Era through Syria, Persia, and at least as far as India. At the same time, the gospel quickly moved south into Africa. And, as a result, North Africa unexpectedly became the cradle of Western Christian theology. Following the apostolic pattern, the gospel in Africa went first to the Jews. Alexandria in Egypt had a massive Jewish presence. For many years, it had been a key Roman city and a center for scholarship. The early church quickly established itself among the Alexandrian Jews and also had a significant following among the Copts (native Egyptians). Soon, there was a catechetical school established in Alexandria that exercised strong influence upon early Christian theology. The early church Fathers Clement, Origin, and Athanasius were all associated with this school and its influence extended both northward into Europe, and south as far as Ethiopia. The seminal Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon were directly influenced by Alexandrian theology, making Africa a key player in the development of the doctrine of Christology. And in the fourth century, North Africa also produced the magisterial St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo (in present-day Tunisia), whose writings were the foundation of Reformed soteriology. (Both Luther and Calvin openly acknowledged their debt to Augustine.) Western theology – our theology – finds many of its roots in Africa. So, it is only fitting that the westward movement of the Church has, through western missionaries, brought the gospel back to Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is now the epicenter of Christianity and the Church there is expanding at an astounding rate. God’s ways are not our ways! (Isaiah 55.8)

 

Tags: church history, north africa, dan steere, western christian theology

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