The two presentations on Gospel and Culture were discussed in small groups which focussed on the following questions:
1. How can the Church in Africa be authentically African and yet remain essentially and genuinely Christian?
2. There is a dire need for sound all-round education for the Churches in Africa. How best can we face this need without compromising the essence of our faith to intellectualism and the acquisition of academic excellence?
Report from the francophone group
Question 1. We have talked these days in our meeting about cultural alienation. The gospel has been brought to us in Africa without taking into account our African culture and this has alienated us profoundly. It has created a gap between us and our cultural heritage. The challenge to us Africans today is to turn to those of our cultural values which we believe are compatible with the gospel. It is not simply to go back to our heritage but to make choices. An example of what is good in our culture is customary marriage before the benediction in the church; another is the belief in an almighty and supreme God, which was there before the gospel came. Examples of cultural values which are not compatible with the gospel are food offerings, witchcraft, magic, belief in idols, trial marriage, pre-arranged marriages by parents without the consent of the future spouses, human sacrifices, lower status of women, etc.
To be authentically christian means to be submitted to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and
- to recognize the divinity and eternal lordship of Jesus Christ as Saviour of humankind and Messiah of God;
- to accept the Bible as the only book of authority in matters of faith;
- to obey the commandment of Christ to go into the world and make disciples of all the nations;
- to obey God's commandments;
- to practise the christian sacrements, in particular baptism, eucharist and marriage ("let man not separate what God has united").
Question 2. The need for education is evident and urgent. But faith must be based on what is spiritual. Jesus took as his disciples people who were not learned. Academic excellence, in the manner of St. Paul, should serve to reinforce the faith. Paul was an intellectual guided by spiritual things. In other words, the academic excellence must put itself at the service of things spiritual. To act otherwise means to expose oneself to the danger of intellectualism, which is idolatry.
Report from the anglophone group
Question 1. The group agreed that "authentically African" means accepting religious and cultural characteristics which are basically African and not imported from outside Africa. "Essentially and genuinely Christian" means having a working relationship with God in Christ, following the Christ of the Bible, that is doing Christ's will, behaving like him and obeying him.
The question could be approached from another angle: "How can we practise the Christian faith by stripping it of elements of western culture without necessarily going back to our cultural practices that are opposed to christian principles and virtues?" The group identified the following areas as vital for the Church in Africa to remain both authentically African and essentially and genuinely Christian. The Church in Africa should:
a) show complete obedience to Jesus Christ in all her endeavours;
b) not mix the christian faith with the ignoble aspects of African traditional religion, particularly witchcraft, bad medicine, incantations, human sacrifice, worshipping of idols, traditional rituals etc.
c) use the positive and noble elements of African culture to enrich the christian faith. These elements include traditional dress, musical instruments and songs, modes of worship and symbols;
d) interpret faithfully the biblical tenets and practices as well as worthy christian traditions of the Church;
e) provide the youth with good examples of the practice of faith and bring into the christian faith what is necessary and not in opposition to it;
f) provide more avenues for women participation in worship and increased membership of committees and meetings.
Question 2. In response to this question the group identified the following:
a) The gospel should be understood wholistically. Our teachings and practice should take into consideration both the spiritual and mundane spheres of life.
b) The church should regularly provide seminars on organisation, church administration and financial management.
c) The church should embark on sound teaching of christian doctrines and practices for both clergy and laity.
d) The church should refuse to accept uncritically christian programmes and materials (books, magazines, visual aids) imported from outside Africa.
e) The church should provide comprehensive education for her ministers. Both secular and theological education should be treated with all seriousness.
f) Competent people should be asked to be responsible for areas of church work that suit their diverse gifts. There is a need to identify the gifts of people before training begins.
g) Training of church members should start from the cradle and go on until old age. It should emphasize the strength and power of Christ and the Word of God. Educators should balance reason and revelation in the Bible classes, Sunday schools, Bible Schools and Seminaries.
h) Intellectuals generally are known to be in the habit of rationalizing biblical and church doctrines and practices. Provision of sound and suitable materials dealing with the essence of our faith is a necessity. Curricula suitable for the various grades of people in the church should not be restricted to theology; rather they should include moral, political and social subjects.
i) Joint efforts between mission-founded churches and AICs must be encouraged, especially:
- writing and publication of useful materials for the church;
- provision of financial assistance;
- exchange of educators, programmes, media resources and even pulpits.
k) Youth programmes in our different churches must be taken seriously, particularly in their planning, implementation and distribution.
Report from the group of the Church of the Lord (Aladura)
Question 1. The group felt it was necessary to identify the extent of the African cultural heritage and to critically review and discuss those aspects of the African way of life which are in conflict with the attributes of christianity.
a) Traditional African worship of God. Africans from the onset believe in the worship of God through concrete objects. They also belief in the shedding of animal blood as sacrifice to appease or seek favour or protection from such gods.
b) African traditional rites. Certain traditional rites which have to do with an entire village or a cultural group area have a direct cultural meaning but essentially of non religious nature, e.g. the Yam Festival inIgbo land, the Fishing Festival and the Planting Season Festivals.
c) Chieftancy appointments. The various traditional ways of chieftancy appointment and installation with the accompanying rituals are typical of the African cultural heritage which differs from one ethnical region to another.
d) Traditional African costumes. The diverse modes of African traditional costumes favour various dressings typical of each geographical area across the entire continent.
e) Medicinal herbs. The average African believes in the potency of herbs and concoctions for healing purposes. They are inclined to go to the native doctor or local herbalist for medicinal consultation.
f) Marriages. The traditional African marriage is surrounded with a lot of cultural demands. Dowries in the form of bride price payments with many different items, animals, drinks etc. vary from place to place depending on the local cultural habits. In recent times the Holy Bible is being included among the dowry items as an addition in modern christian marriages.
Polygamy should be seen as a cultural heritage among some ethnic groups. It is not an obstacle to being a christian in Africa.
g) Child naming ceremonies. The traditional naming ceremonies of various clans reflect the culture of each clan and should be accepted as part of the cultural heritage of the people. The family traditions and observations with regard to child birth should be carefully interpreted to avoid that christianity would damage the importance of the heritage.
h) Burial ceremonies. African burial ceremonies also vary from place to place according to local traditions. The burial of the dead at home is peculiar to some clans while traditional ceremonies also differ according to the social status of the dead. The establishment of church cemeteries by the early missionaries was meant to encourage people to join the church so that they would get a christian burial at their death.
Having analysed the above African traditional practices the group concluded that for the Church in Africa to remain essentially and genuinely christian, the following christian attributes must be strictly accepted and followed:
a) The African christian must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as his/her Lord and Saviour.
b) The African christian must not have anything between him/her and God (Mat. 22:37, Deut. 6:4).
c) The African christian must not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (II Cor. 6:14ff, John 17:14ff).
Question 2. The group arrived at the following conclusions:
a) The first step is to entrench in our christian educational system the basic tenets of our faith. This is to be accomplished through the teaching from childhood by parents and Sunday schools:
- the total submission to the voice of the Spirit (I Tes. 5:19-20);
- the efficacy of prayers and fasting (Mat. 17:21);
- humility and reverence before God (Luke 9:5);
- the use of symbols as aids to faith.
b) Mission schools should be returned to the churches, including to AICs, to allow for the teaching and training of students in the ways of God.
c) The regular training of the general membership in our doctrines without compromising on any issue.
d) Sponsorships and employment of members through the agencies of the church.
e) Soliciting the power of the Holy Spirit in the acquisition of higher educational knowledge.