The African Apostles: Did You Know?

AS OF 1880, the vast majority of Africa remained mysterious, elusive, and untouched by the West. But by the turn of the century, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, and Italy had carved up nearly every one of Africa’s 10 million square miles and divided a population of 110 million Africans, many of whom had no idea they were now “ruled” by ambassadors from another continent.

In 1900, there were 8 to 10 million Christians in Africa, which amounted to 8 to 10 percent of the total population. Today, there are 360 million—nearly 50 percent of the continent.

Philip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom, said that the heart of global Christianity will be Africa, not Europe or North America. What this means, says Jenkins, is that “in 50 or 100 years Christianity will be defined according to its relationship with that [African] culture.”

There are between 40 and 50 million Anglicans in Africa. There are 25 million Anglicans in England, but only 800,000 frequent the pews. If current trends hold true, by 2025 the Anglican population in Nigeria alone will outnumber that in England by nearly 9 million.

Here are some of the countries most radically changed during the period 1900 to 2000. These statistics (derived from David Barrett) represent professing Christians:

  % Christians in 1900 % Christians in 2000 Congo—Zaire 1.4% 95.4% Angola 0.6% 94.1% Swaziland 1.0% 86.9% Zambia 0.3% 83.4% Kenya 0.2% 79.3% Malawi 1.8% 76.8% In the twentieth century, there have been some 1.8 million Christian martyrs in Africa.

Zionist churchgoers in southern Africa (p. 35), whose church bears no relationship to the Jewish movement of the same name, can be easily identified by their white clothing with blue or green sashes, wooden staffs, and worship that incorporates many different elements of charismatic expression. However, this large indigenous movement traces its origins to the Chicago suburb of Zion, Illinois. There, Australian preacher John Alexander Dowie led a theocratic commune that emphasized the spiritual gift of healing. While he never ventured to Africa himself, Dowie commissioned a number of his followers as missionaries to the southern region of the continent, where their evangelical message and emphasis on spiritual gifts found a receptive African audience. Soon many “Zion” churches sprang up across Africa that had no connection to the original Dowie-linked groups except for the name. CH

By Chris Armstrong and Collin Hansen

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #79 in 2003]

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