Marks of an African Indigenous Church

Beginning somewhere around the early 1900’s Africans began forming their own congregations outside of the official denominations of the Europeans. Historians and missiologists now classify this group as the African Indigenous Church (AIC). These independent assemblies have become the most common expression of African Christianity. Sometimes these assemblies are a denomination (the ZCC or the AFM) and sometimes they are independent (The Crossing Bridge to Heaven or the Glory Barn International, two churches I have known).

The average AIC is marked by most or all of the following marks although it is difficult to classify all the congregations together because they have not agreed on a unified doctrinal statement. (See problem #2 below). Nor does every church started and run by Africans have all these marks, but many have four or more. These marks have been observed in my own personal experience as well as numerous sources like Christianity Today, Conrad Mbewe, the ZCC, and websites of churches around my village.

  1. Started and run by Africans without control from other cultures.
  2. Never or rarely follow a confession of faith or doctrinal statement.
  3. Usually led by a single, strong personality.
  4. Does not practice church discipline on sinning members.
  5. Often teaches the prosperity gospel and Word Faith charismaticism.
  6. Often syncretistic combining Christianity with acceptance of polygamy and / or elements of spiritism.

Obviously, 4-6 are more serious issues than 1-3, but if a church has any 4 of these 6 marks it has compromised the Gospel and many are the assemblies with all of them. In light of that, here are some loosely connected thoughts about ministering in a society with this kind of religious atmosphere.

Many people claim to be Christian, but they are ignorant about the core doctrines of Christianity because of these AIC marks. That means before you can evangelize, you must often convince the person that he is not saved. This requires humility for the man to acknowledge that even though he thought he was converted, he was wrong. All men must be convinced of this before they are converted but it is especially difficult for someone who thought he had already found the light to humble himself. Of course, this is not a strictly African difficulty. In a similar vein, because the AIC talk about “prayer” it is easy for sinners who think they are saved to pray with you as you are trying to evangelize them. You will then think they were just converted and they think they prayed with you just like they pray every week at their church.

If a visitor comes to your church after having been familiar with the AIC, he might be disinterested in listening to your expositional preaching.

People who have attended an AIC might be surprised to find out that your church practices church discipline. You may be looked at as “too strict” or merely “Western.”

Some people are truly converted in an AIC for which all believers must rejoice, but it is difficult to find a strong Christian because of the lack of doctrinal, theological, expositional preaching. Discouragement easily sets in because other churches grow so quickly while yours is very slow. It can be frustrating to work on a particular man for months only to find him going to an AIC that does not teach the Gospel.

Africans planting churches is in itself a good move as long as those churches love the Gospel, the 5 Solas, expositional preaching, evangelism, and church discipline. May Christ build His church on this continent to the embarrassment of false teachers and the glory of His Word.

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