Inspired by the Africa Study Bible
The world has become indifferent to the African roots of Christianity. The amount of education about the most influential people, places, and beliefs of Christianity often does not include the role that Africa has played and continues to play in the religion. The entrance of Islam and European Christianity have masked the part of Christianity’s origin in Africa. Although, the African Christian perspective actually helped to shape many of the concepts that have now overshadowed what we call our tradition.
Perhaps the most noteworthy African biblical disciple and author is John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark. Mark was born and raised in (Cyrene) Africa until circumstances pushed him to relocate to Jerusalem. Mark was greatly influenced by another disciple, Peter, and included some of his most famous teachings into the book of Mark. According to the Africa Study Bible, “It was in Africa that an understanding of God and his relationship with humankind was refined.” Mark became a bishop in the city of Alexandria and led the local church to thrive even after his death in AD 68. The Gospel of Mark is a unique gospel in comparison to the other three, known for its concise text and distinctive perspective. A lesser known, yet highly important biblical character from Africa is called Simon of Cyrene. He was mandated to carry Jesus’s cross to Calvary where he was crucified. Both characters played key roles in the story of the gospel and promoted growth of Christianity in Africa.
One of the most frequently visited cities in the Bible is Alexandria. Both Origen and Clement of Alexandria played key roles in theology, biblical scholarship, and the spreading of the gospel in early centuries. Arius, the pastor of John Mark’s church, began teaching what had been recognized today as heresy. He claimed that Jesus was not God, and therefore taught that Jesus had a beginning and end. This would imply that Jesus was not eternal. Athanasius, who has now been deemed the “Father or Orthodoxy” headed up the opposing argument to Arius’s. He played a role in the creation of the Nicene Creed and continually defended the Trinitarian theology of God. Without Athanasius’s zeal for God’s character and dedicated biblical scholarship, this heresy could have continued for a longer period of time, even affecting and confusing Christians in modern day. Athanasius, the “Father of Orthodoxy”, and his African roots shaped Christianity as we know it today.
Africa is where the Bible “happened”. Places like Cyrene, Egypt, Libya, Meroe, Kush, Alexandria, and more were the stage for Jesus’s story to unfold upon. These are our cities – this is our home! Jesus used the cities and places that we inhabit to make history and create the most beautiful narrative of love in existence. Africa is where Christianity evolved and developed into the relationship, not religion, that we are gifted today. The Africa Study Bible says it this way on page 1466:
“If, indeed, Africans save Christianity for the world, it will be history coming full circle, for Africa was one of the cradles in which Christianity was first nourished.”
The most famous African biblical theologian, scholar, and teacher was Augustine. He was a gifted writer, thinker, and leader that has been named one of the “Greatest of the Early Church Fathers” by Christians today. Even today, long after his death, his ideas continue to surge through the Christian community, making an impact for the better. Augustine wrote his testimony of how God found him and turned his life around in his most famous work titled, Confessions, which is still a popular Christian resource today. He brings a unique African perspective to the table in this book as he describes the “before-and-after” of his walk with Christ.
Christianity’s African roots are rich and deep. “We stand on the shoulders of our African Christian ancestors…” as the Africa Study Bible explains. They laid the foundation so that we could continue to build. We must not ignore the history behind Christianity, including the African roots, and all of the valuable knowledge that comes with it. This is our home. We have a first-hand experience with the land that many others will only ever read about. We get the chance to share this unique perspective with our descendants, a special gift that many others would love to have. Today, honour your tradition. Tell the stories with pride. Let your roots inspire your faith.
This excerpt is inspired by an Article of the Africa Study Bible titled, “Christianity’s African Roots”. Africa Study Bible Articles are about the Christian life and critical concerns that face the church in Africa and its people. The articles help you understand how to apply the bible to a specific area of life where God’s wisdom is needed.
This excerpt was first published here.