The State Of Christianity In Africa/Ghana Today
Christianity in Africa has a long history. It is believed to have started in North Africa shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Muslim invasion of the North almost wiped Christianity away until the Portuguese, in their bid to explore and discover Africa, returned to the Western Coast of Africa through Cape Verde with Christianity. Other missionaries later came to Africa, especially, after Martin Luther protested against the Catholic Church. Here, both the Catholic and the Protestant Churches came to Africa to plant Churches. Later, Christianity spread to sub-Saharan Africa. Africans embraced Christianity due to various reasons. One of the reasons was that Christianity brought education or literacy to the Africans. The missionaries established schools, formulated alphabets in the various languages they found themselves and translated the Bible into these local languages.
Another reason why Africans accepted the gospel was that, most Africans identified some of the teachings of the gospel with African Traditional Religion. For instance, Africans believe in blood sacrifice as a medium of reaching out to their ancestors. They also identified with the person of Jesus as the deliverer – the deliverer who delivered people from evil spirits, sickness, poverty etc. Over the years, the face of Christianity has gone through various changes. This essay would look at the past, present and future of Christianity in Africa with a focus on Ghana.
The Catholics dominated Christianity in Ghana but they were later outnumbered by the Methodists, Presbyterians and Anglicans. These were called the orthodox churches. These orthodox churches were initially manned by European missionaries. They expanded their missions to villages and hamlets in Ghana. They used education as their main means of propagating the gospel. They built schools that taught the young ones how to read and write. Concerned about the poor and the middle class, these orthodox churches built hospitals and provided free medical care for the people. These attracted the poor to the church. It also offered opportunity for their children to be able to read and write.
Apart from the Catholic Church which integrated some Africa culture and rites into their worship, many of the denominations, which were led by the Europeans, condemned African Traditional Religions—describing them as fetish. The Catholics therefore had an upper hand in winning the people because their way of worship identified with the African’s way of worship. As many Ghanaians rose in their academic life, they began to identify the shortfalls in the European form of Christianity which was imposed on the people. Many African scholars and preachers wrote and preached against the European form of Christianity. Several Ghanaians began to Africanise Christian worship. They did this by introducing African, and for that matter, Ghanaian music and musical instruments into the church. A Presbyterian elder known as Dr Ephraim Amu, composed many songs in the Ghanaian language. Those songs are still sung in most of the churches in Ghana today.
The struggle for independence by many African countries did not take place with nations only but also with the church. Ghana gained independence in 1957 and shortly after that, many Ghanaian churches also gained their independence. Most of the orthodox churches elected their own heads and organized their synods without the support of their mother churches. Some of them came together to form a council that gave them a voice. The Christian Council of Ghana became a strong force in Ghana. They elected their leaders from the various denominations that constituted the council. These leaders speak on political, social and theological issues that affects the country. The Ghana Catholic Secretariat is a body that belongs to the Catholic Church alone. They have existed independent of the other orthodox churches because they see the orthodox churches as breakaway churches. These churches were mainly of the reformed tradition—they broke away from the Roman Catholic church.
Aside the orthodox churches, are what is called independent African churches. These churches also broke away from the orthodox churches to form their own churches. The Apostolic Church of Ghana was a case in point. There are other indigenous churches such as the Musama Disco Christo Church, Divine Healers Church etc. Most of these church’s leaders had no formal education. Majority of them claimed that they heard a call from God to deliver his people. These churches were purely organised and run in Ghanaian languages. They based most of their practises on the Old Testament. Animal sacrifice, traditional dance and drumming were part of their worship. They cast out demons (exorcism) and declared people witches and wizards. Their members spoke in tongues. Their leaders claimed to be prophets of God who declared the voice of God to the people. These independent churches allowed polygamy in the church. Their leaders married more than one wives. Often, most of these independent churches died with the death of their founders. This is because the administration and governance of these churches solely depended on the founder. They dictates what they claim is the voice of God to their followers, upon which, no member could raise any objections. The coming of independent churches in Ghana also saw many women becoming church leaders – prophetesses and pastors.
The trend of the Ghanaian church however, began to take a different dimension with the proliferation or mushrooming of what is called the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. As the orthodox churches became complacent, they relaxed in evangelizing the people. Nominalism and elitism entered the church. The pure word of God ceased to emanate from the pulpits. The result of this is the mushrooming of the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Various individuals, who claimed were called by God, started gathering people in classrooms and in homes. They claimed to be preaching the pure word of God. They centred their messages on faith, healing, casting out of demons etc. They stressed the Holy Spirit and his gifts to the church. Many of their followers were taught how to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit, it was taught, must be followed with speaking in tongues. These Pentecostal and Charismatic churches virtually emptied the orthodox churches. Their teachings on giving and prosperity caught fire with the people. Their worships were characterised with laud noise amidst drumming, singing, dancing and ecstatic utterances which they claim came from the Holy Spirit.
Even though this Pentecostal and Charismatic churches received a lot of flapping from the orthodox churches, these did not stop people from flooding their meetings on Sundays. Their revival and deliverance services were inundated with people from all walks of life. The leaders of these Holy Spirit churches lived flamboyantly. They taught that since God blesses his people they, the leaders must exhibit it in their lives. They did not only build mansions as their private homes, but they also, built palatial chapels. They drove the most expensive cars. When criticised, one of their founders claimed that if Jesus were to be on earth, he would have driven the most expensive car. Eventually, the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches formed The Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council (GPCC), an ecumenical body that regulates the activities of these churches. Even though these Charismatic churches are independent, they are regulated and mentored by this council. Churches who voluntarily subscribe to the council subject themselves to its authority. The Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council has become a powerful voice in Ghana. Their leaders are very often invited to state functions.
Initially, most of the leaders of the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches frowned on biblical education or what is called seminaries training. They preached against titles such as bishop, archbishop, moderator etc. They have however come to appreciate the importance of not only bible school (bible education) but also academic education. Most of these Churches have built university colleges across the length and breathe of the country. The first Church to have braced the trail is called the International Central Gospel Church (ICGC). They started as a bible college to train their ministers and has grown into a fully-fledged university of which many other Charismatic and Pentecostal churches are emulating.
The face of Christianity in Ghana has however shifted to another level in recent times. More people are breaking away from the Charismatic churches to form their own. These people leave sometimes because of the fracases they have with their founders. The defectors often complain of their founders not allowing them to use their spiritual gifts while, others leave due to money—founders not caring for their needs. Operating an independent or what is called one-man church in Ghana seems to be lucrative. Those who claim to be prophets are the most sought after. Most Ghanaians believe that their destinies would change when a prophet speaks into their lives. The use of the anointing oil and holy water are the sources of funding for these churches. Then, there is what is called consultation fee. People, who are booked to see the prophet, are made to pay huge sums of money. These people also return to give testimonies about what God has used the prophets to do for them. Most of these one-man churches are on satellite television and are reaching out to millions all over the world.
Salvation according to these churches is more on how one is delivered from sickness and poverty. Prosperity messages are rampant in these churches. Some of their leaders are competing among themselves with the latest cars that they can buy. The founders of these churches have acquired all sorts of accolades. Some say that they have reached the status of angels and attends meetings with other angels together with Jesus Christ. The era of the prophetic preacher in Ghana seems to be getting out of hands. These is because their practises are at variance with the teachings of the Bible. One of them gives lotto numbers to his members to stake. These members return with testimonies of winning huge sums of money from the lotto they stake. Some fetish priests have often come out to say that some of these prophets came to them for magical powers to use in their churches. These claims cannot however be authenticated. Currently the debate that is going on in Ghana is whether churches should begin to pay tax since they are into business and are making profits.
Comparing the past with the present, one can see a huge difference early church and what it has become now in Ghana. In the past, the churches were more concerned with building schools and hospitals but, that is not the case anymore. In the past, the Church cared for the poor and needy but, that seems not to be the case anymore. Christianity in the past was mainly based on salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. These was the message brought by the protestant missionaries. These have changed. Salvation today, is based on healing, deliverance from demonic oppressions and what is called financial breakthrough (prosperity gospel). Many people are trooping these churches but morals continue to fall. Their concern is no more on what Christ has done to save mankind from sin and the resultant walk with him—which is holiness and righteousness. The Bible is held like a magic book from which mystical words can be conjured. No proper rules of interpretation are followed. These so called prophets have no desire to attend Bible schools in order to study proper theology. In fact, to many of them, theology is rather a hindrance to the flow of the Holy Spirit.
The future of Christianity seems bleak for Ghana and Africa as a whole. Many are not depending on their intellects when dealing with the Bible anymore. Rational thinking seems to be alien to the Africa Christian. Many more are claiming to be called prophets but they are not ready to study the Bible. African Christianity will continue to churn out charlatans who will then continue to lead gullible people. This is because African, and for that matter, Ghanaian Christians are not in any way preparing themselves for a change. There can only be a true revolution in the way Christianity is being run today only when proper theology and interpretation of the Bible is brought back into the Church. This however is difficult because the Africa is more bent on having deliverance from demons and poverty. The issue of poverty must seriously be addressed if Christianity has to take a different face. People must be taught how to use their hand and brains to work. Governments in Africa must also up their games in alleviating the plight of the people. Without these practical steps taken, African Christianity will continue to sink down the abyss.
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Rev. Francis Lawer Sackitey and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana.