Christian workers in Africa are participating in the third attempt to take the message of Christ to that great continent. The first attempt began in the days of the apostles. Christianity spread from Egypt down the Nile into Ethiopia and flourished for hundreds of years along the North African coast in the territory now occupied by Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. It reached its height between 180 and 430, with hundreds of bishops and three popes, and produced such men as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine.
In the eighth and ninth centuries, however, the African church was almost completely inundated by the wave of Islamic conquest. Why did it not stand up to Islam? The answer is threefold: It had not become a missionary church; it had wasted its strength on internal controversies; and it had not identified itself with the common people but had been satisfied with reaching only the upper Roman classes. A remnant proved faithful in Egypt and is seen in the Coptic churches today, but in North Africa Christianity practically vanished. Had the Church been faithful to its God-given task, Africa would doubtless have been as enlightened and advanced today as any other part of the world.
The second attempt to take the Gospel to Africa was made in the fifteenth century by priests who were chaplains to the Portuguese navigator-explorers. Their work was at first down the west coast, mainly in what is now Ghana and the Congo, and later up the east coast to Mozambique and inland as far as the borders of Rhodesia. Unfortunately, this work did not survive the slave trade; when the Portuguese moved their interests to the Far East, the work they had established withered. This church had not been firmly established among the native people, ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more