Christianity is an invitation to resistance. It’s a call to stand against the winds of the time past and present. In the parable of the wise and foolish builder, Christ showed us that believers need to have their faith rooted in him if they want to stand the winds of the times.
For that reason, advising the Christians in Corinth who wrestled daily with their local cultures and the foreign Hebrew culture, Paul wrote, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Another writer warned the Hebrews, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”
From these passages and numerous others throughout the New Testament, believers are instructed to resist the winds by anchoring in Christ rather than local or foreign cultural traditions, no matter how appealing they may seem.
But does this mean when a Corinthian came to Christ he ceased to be Corinthian? Or when aaHebrew believed in Jesus Christ, she was no longer Hebrew? Is that what Paul meant when he told the Ephesians that there was one body and one Spirit—just as they were called to the one hope that belonged to their call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all?
The problem in such an argument is it conflates two distinct issues; faith foundations and faith contexts. Believers have the same faith foundations, at least they should. However, our faith contexts are varied and are often defined by place and race. For example, the church in the West is often encumbered by questions on sexuality, science, and social justice. In contrast, the church in majority world has to answer on corruption, poverty, and diseases. Context matters.
Suggesting that there is no such thing as African Christianity or Asian Christianity or Western Christianity is, strictly speaking, rejecting the truth that faith contexts differ among believers from a different race or place. I’m an African Christian because I am an African and I am a Christian. Being an African is the context I practice my faith.
In a climate where superiority is often a priority, for example the Reformed claiming better knowledge of the Bible or Pentecostals claiming a patent to the Holy Spirit, any claim of distinctiness is viewed suspiciously. Saying there’s African, Asian, Latino/a or Western Christianity isn’t an attempt to putting various faith contexts on a scale to find which one is superior. It’s simply acknowledging that how we express our faith is influenced by our race and place. And that’s beautiful.
Being an African defines the types of bricks that I will use to build on the Rock. Notice this; a brick made in Malawi is different from a brick made in Zambia or Zimbabwe. It’s because of the differences in geochemical structure of our soils. Some soil contain a lot of organic matter which makes the structure weak, thus bricks made from such soil may need to be burned for a long time. Other soils are highly aggregated, so you may want to grind and sieve them.
African Christianity is not only about accepting we have different faith contexts, but also acknowledging we have unique faith challenges. It is about accepting we have a problem. African Christianity is not only about worshipping God through rhumba dances or praising God through traditional music, it’s about prosperity gospel, prophecy and deliverance ministries, and decolonization of the mind. It is simply acknowledging that the soil we want to make bricks with has pebbles and twigs.
Besides the Ethiopian and Egyptian Orthodox, African Christianity in its various shapes and sizes is a product of colonization. When the Europeans came to colonize Africa they claimed to bring three things; Christianity, civilization and commerce. Hence, African culture is deemed demonic, in some expressions of African Christianity. In contrast, ethnic trauma caused by colonization caused some African Christians to reject Western traditions in their worship.
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:11-15
By claiming to be an African Christian, I’m not trying to lay a new foundation. I’m simply acknowledging the material available to me for building on this Rock. I’m accepting that there are some twigs, pebbles, and sand in my soil. I’m telling you I need you. I need you to point out my blindspots. African Christianity is not my foundation and neither is Christianity. My foundation remains Jesus Christ.