Africa: Christian Long Before Europe

history of the church in africa jonathan hildebrandtOne of the best classes I took during my undergrad years was a class on the history of Christian in Africa taught by Jonathan Hildebrandt (who also wrote a book on the subject). The best part was that the class didn’t start in the modern era, where a lot of folks and books start, but in the first-century with the Twelve Apostles and those who followed in their footsteps.  While the full history is too long to trace here, it is noteworthy to mention that the Gospel of the Kingdom spread throughout Africa very early on – there were even large nations deep within Africa continent who declared Christian as the national religion long before the Roman Empire did so.  (Makuria is one such nation which has recently come into the news due to a recently discovered burial crypt.)

Below is a video that highlights an aspect of Christian in Ethiopia, one of the very, very few African nations to successfully resist European colonialism. However before you watch the video, here are some cool tit bits about the history of Christian in Africa. I would also recommend reading Ramon Mayo’s blog series on “Christianity is Not the White Man’s Religion” where he not only explores the spread of Christian into Africa, Syria and other non-European areas. (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6)

  • Acts 8 tells the famous story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. What folks may not know is that this Eunuch went back to Ethiopia and started telling everyone there about Jesus – effectively making him the first missionary to cross international boundaries.

“This man (Simeon Bachos the Eunuch) was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed, that there was one God preached by the prophets, but that the Son of this (God) had already made (His) appearance in human flesh, and had been led as a sheep to the slaughter; and all the other statements which the prophets made regarding Him.” – St. Irenaeus of Lyons in his book Against the Heresies (180 AD).

  • One of the leaders of the church at Antioch who sent out Barnabas and Paul was a gentlemen named Simeon who was called Niger (Acts 13:1). The word “Niger” means black and was used in first century to identity those of dark complexion and/or African descent. This means, then, that one of the leaders of the most successful churches in history was a African.
  • Church tradition states that at least two of the Twelve Apostles traveled and preached in Africa: Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collection (who also wrote the Book of Matthew in the Bible). Simon was said to have traveled throughout northern back of Africa before going to Britain. Matthew, on the other hand, went through Egypt to Ethiopia – possibly to visit Simeon Bachos the Eunuch?
  • John Mark, the author of the Book of Mark in the Bible and a traveling companion of St. Paul, is credited with starting the church in Alexandria, Egypt, in 42 A.D. This church went on to become one of the most powerful churches in the Roman Empire. Eventually this church would become what is now known as the Coptic Orthodox Church.
  • The first Christian university was founded in Alexandria, Egypt, by either John Mark or one of his successors, it is not known for sure. What is known is that Athenagoras is recorded as the dean of the Catechetical School of Alexandria in 176 A.D. Later on the school would launch the career of Origen (185-254 AD), who is considered by many as the Father of Theology.
  • Another famous Christian theologian is St. Augustine (354-430 AD). While folks today quote his books and writings, what they probably don’t know is that Augustine was a Berber African. The Berber people were (and are) an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley. In other words, St. Augustine was a dark skinned African who lived, worked, and died in present-day Algeria long before white man of Europe even heard about Jesus.

I could go on, but I’m out of time… it is enough to say that Christian was not, and has never been, a white-man’s religion (Jesus, after all, was a Jewish Middle-Eastern man!). As St. John wrote in Revelation 7:9, people of “every nation and all tribes” will and are worshiping the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Blessings.

2 thoughts on “Africa: Christian Long Before Europe”

  1. Why so stridently anti-white? I have never thought of my faith as being a race or a color…I have thought of it as being a belief and that we all who share it are in brotherhood. And by extension of God’s love making us all rather Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhaist, Islamist, Sinkh…brothers. Yet this article goes out of it’s way to drag race into it…which I find to be anti- the teachings of Christ…WHY?

    1. You are right in that following Jesus has never been a condition of race, gender or ethnicity. Sadly, however, a large portion of Christians in the USA tend to think of Christianity as something very European and white. A lot of history books, again very sadly, ignore the movement of our Lord in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and other areas – focusing primarily on European and USA church history. I wrote this article to help people realize that following Jesus is not, nor has ever been, something confided to one continent or ethnic people. If that heart did not come out in the post, then I must offer my apologies as that was the spirit in which it was written. Blessings.

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