African Initiated Churches

African Initiated Churches
   African Initiated Churches (AIC) are the churches and organizations founded by Christian converts in Africa independent of the colonial Christian churches. Today they comprise a significant minority of the sub-Saharan Christian population on the continent.
   Even in the early phases of the Protestant effort to establish missions in sub-Saharan Africa, there were converts who rejected the continued oversight of European and American missionaries, preferring to use the knowledge and skills they acquired in colonial churches in new, independent churches. As early as 1703, an African woman, Donna Beatrice, had led a short-lived schism from the Roman Catholic Church in the Congo. Among the first successful AIC bodies was the West African Methodist Church. It was founded in 1844 in Sierra Leone by Africans denied the right to preach by the European missionaries who had assumed control of the Methodist movement there. Other schisms cropped up in the following decades in direct proportion to the overall success of Protestant missionary activity. Observers noticed AICs flourished in the areas where Protestant missions first developed (South Africa, the Congo Basin, central Kenya, and West Africa), and that a connection existed between the number of different contending Protestant missions and the subsequent emergence of AICs.
   By the beginning of the 20th century, enough new AIC had arisen to provoke concern among other Christians, who used labels such as nativis-tic, messianic, and syncretist to describe their programs. As they attempted to build an indigenous Africanized Christianity, AICs often integrated a range of religious and nonreligious elements from indigenous cultures.
   Several independent missionary initiatives from abroad led to still more groups of AICs. In South Africa, the Christian Catholic Church, a small body headed by charismatic healer John Alexander Dowie (1847-1907) began work in Johannesburg in the 1890s. Then in 1908, the first Pentecostal missionaries arrived, and as in America, the Zionists (named for the headquarters town of Dowie's church) proved fertile ground for the development of the Apostolic Faith Church. The Christian Catholic Church and the Apostolic Faith Church then became the foundation from which a host of new denominations developed. Among them, the Zion Christian Church, founded by Engenas Lekganyane (c. 1880-1948), is now the largest Protestant denomination in South Africa. In Kenya, the spread of independent churches began with the founding of the Nomiya Luo Church by members of the Church of England mission in 1914 and greatly increased in the 1920s and 1930s; by the end of the 20th century more than 200 separate AICs had been documented in Kenya alone. Efforts to network the different AICs in ecumenical fellowships emerged and spread to the rest of the continent, the most important being the Organization of African Initiated Churches.
   In West Africa, Liberian prophet William Wade Harris (1865-1929) received a prophetic call while in prison and began preaching in Ghana and the Ivory Coast in 1913. In the face of repression by the authorities and antagonism from the older Methodist and Catholic churches (Harris accepted polygamy), a separate Harrist Church emerged, becoming one of the largest churches in the region. Harris's work also contributed to the formation of "new spiritual" or Aladura churches that emphasized prayer and healing.
   The revelation vouchsafed to Simon Kimbangu (c. 1887-1951), a contemporary of Harris, gave the greatest impetus to AICs in the Congo. Belgian authorities attempted to suppress the movement, and Kimbangu spent his last 30 years in prison, but Africans revered him as a nationalist leader. The movement he initiated has become the largest of the many AICs in that country.
   AICs come in all varieties. They draw on all of the different European churches that established missions and from the many different indigenous African religions. Some closely resemble the mission churches; others are primarily African in belief and practice. The largest numbers of AICs, like the Deeper Life Bible Church, are rooted in Pentecostal belief and practice, in part because Pentecostalists are willing to confront local beliefs in multiple deities and a demonic world, rather than dismissing such beliefs as pure superstition.
   With the coming of independence in recent decades, the older Protestant churches seemed more willing to turn their missions over to local leadership, and to show new respect toward the AICs. Groups such as the Church of the Lord Aladura, the Kimbanguist Church, and the African Israel Church,Nineveh have led the way for AICs into the World Council of Churches. The larger Pentecostal community has welcomed the newer Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, and other AICs have affiliated with the World Evangelical Alliance.
   The rate of growth of the AICs has accelerated. It has been estimated that by the end of the 20th century AICs had some 60 million adherents, more than 20 percent of the total Christian population of Africa.
   Further reading:
   ■ Allan H. Anderson, African Reformation: African Initiated Christianity in the Twentieth Century (Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2001)
   ■ David B. Barrett, Schism and Renewal in Africa: An Analysis of Six Thousand Contemporary Religious Movements (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1968)
   ■ David B. Barrett and T. John Padwick, Rise Up and Walk! Conciliarism and the African Indigenous Churches, 1815-1987 (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1989)
   ■ Harold W. Turner. Religious Innovation in Africa (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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