Christianity in Africa

The presence of Christianity in Africa began by the end of the first century in Egypt, and by the end of the second century in the region around Carthage. Important Africans who influenced the early development of Christianity includes Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Cyprian, Athanasius and Augustine of Hippo.

The later rise of Islam in North Africa reduced the size and numbers of Christian congregations, leaving only the Coptic Church in Egypt and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in the Horn of Africa. The latter professes its own distinctive customs, a unique canon of the Bible, and a distinctive architecture illustrated by the structures of Axum, Debre Damo and Lalibela. It is the one community of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa which is not the product of European missionary work, but can document its foundation prior to any European countries.

Christianity is embraced by the majority of the population in most Southern, Central and Eastern African nations and in some West African nations. In North Africa, Coptic Christians make a significant minority in Egypt. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Christianity is currently one of the Africa's most widespread religions, with a following of some 51.5% of the population.


The History of Christianity in Africa began in the 1st century when Mark the Evangelist started the Orthodox Church of Alexandria in about the year 43. Little is known about the first couple of centuries of African Christian history, beyond the list of bishops of Alexandria. At first the church in Alexandria was mainly Greek-speaking, but by the end of the 2nd century the scriptures and Liturgy had been translated into three local languages. Christianity was also planted in north-western Africa (today known as the Maghreb), but the churches there were linked to the Church of Rome.

At the beginning of the 3rd century the church began to expand rapidly, and five new bishoprics were established. These were suffragans of Alexandria, and at this time the Bishop of Alexandria began to be called Pope, as the senior bishop in Egypt. In the middle of the 3rd century the church in Egypt suffered severely in the persecution under the Emperor Decius. Many Christians fled from the towns into the desert. When the persecution died down, however, some remained in the desert as hermits to pray. This was the beginning of Christian monasticism, which over the following years spread from Africa to other parts of the Christian world.

The 4th century began with renewed persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. In the early 4th century, King Ezana declared Christianity the official religion of Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum after having been converted by Frumentius, resulting in the foundation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Christianity in Africa today

At the beginning of the 21st century Christianity is probably the main religion in most of sub-Saharan Africa, while in the northern part of the continent it is a minority religion, where the majority of the population are Muslims. There has been tremendous growth of Christians in Africa. As evidence, only nine million Christians were in Africa in 1900, but by the year 2000, there were an estimated 380 million Christians. According to a 2006 Pew Forum on Religion and Public life study, 147 millions of African Christians were "renewalists" (a term that includes both Pentecostals and charismatics). Much of the Christian growth in Africa is now due to African evangelism rather than Western missionaries. In South Africa, it is rare to find a person with no religious beliefs, which is almost always Christianity amongst the whites, but Christianity is also popular amongst the blacks, especially city-dwellers. Christianity in Africa shows tremendous variety, from the ancient forms of Oriental Orthodox Christianity in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Eritrea to the newest African-Christian denominations of Nigeria, a country that has experienced massive conversion to Christianity in the recent time.

Some experts tell about the shift of Christianity's center of gravity from the Western industrialized nations to Africa, Asia and Latin America in modern time. Yale University historian Lamin Sanneh stated, that "African Christianity was not just an exotic, curious phenomenon in an obscure part of the world, but that African Christianity might be the shape of things to come. The statistics from the World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett) illustrates the emerging trend of dramatic Christian growth at the continent and supposes, that in 2025 there will be 633 millions of Christians in Africa.

See also


External links

  • BBC - The Story of Africa Christianity

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