World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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9 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 23

While many all over the world are applauding the growth of Christianity in Africa and even pinning their hopes for the future of Christianity on the continent, an African theologian from Malawi has questioned its depth.

The Rev. Augustine Musopole told an audience at the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches: "While Christianity in Africa is growing in numbers and in its geographical spread, its depth is questionable. This might be the reason it is easily overcome by forces of ethnicity, partriachy, corruption, hatred, political manipulation, racism, classism, regionalism and traditionalism."

He was speaking at a meeting held by the Fellowship of Councils of Churches in Eastern and Southern Africa as part of the Assembly's Padare. This three-day presentation of concerns by 400 groups, independent of the official agenda, is named after the Shona word for meeting-place.

Dr Musopole said that the Gospel came to Africa in a Western package. Instead of receiving the Gospel and discarding the cultural wrappings, Africans were made to embrace both. The Gospel needed to be wrapped in African cultural terms to redeem the African and the Church.

"The Church in Africa, especially the mainline churches, are being called to embark on a second stage of evangelism and theological indigenisation," he said. African culture acknowledged a creator God, but One who was at a distance and spoke through intermediaries and a given group. He said that as a result, the presence of God was experienced by a few individuals.

Dr Musopole said that the Gospel was the creation of a new humanity ("umuthu"). To realise this, there was a need to evangelise the African world view. Evangelism had focused on the soul, making Christianity like a spiritual insurance - good when one is dead. This kind of Christianity left one to struggle alone with the daily challenges of life, causing African Christians to suffer from spiritual schizophrenia.

Dr. Musopole told the delegates and visitors that the African Church was spiritually divided because of the cultural confusion. The challenge to Christianity in Africa was how to liberate the Gospel from Western cultural and institutional wrappings.

To achieve this, Dr Musopole said, Western Christianity must realise its own ambiguities and contradictions as problematic for the development of African Christian spirituality. Western Christianity should also appreciate that African spirituality is usable by God, who was incarnated in Christ, the authentic "umuthu".

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.