by Batanayi I. Manyika
“Africa is over-evangelized and under-taught,” so goes the adage. When this maxim is analysed against the backdrop of an exponential growth of Christianity on the continent, a composite portrait of a Pentecostal church emerges. Current statistics count between 500 and 600 million Pentecostals in the world (A. H. Anderson 2013, Introduction). The Center of the Study of Global Christianity recorded 203 893 000 Pentecostals and Charismatics in Africa, in the year 2015 (T. M. Johnson and G. A. Zurlo, 2015). It is therefore safe to infer that in some parts of Africa, Pentecostalism is the sole expression of Christianity, and the fastest growing section of the church in the world today.
The history of Pentecostalism in Africa is usually traced back to the 1906 Azusa street revival, in Los Angeles (D. Martin, 2013, 37). While this narrative has dominated the annals of Pentecostal research for decades, it is not wholly accurate. Recent consensus has come to accept Pentecostalism as “a movement without a center or periphery, a global phenomenon with multiple access points” (C. R. Clarke, 2014, 27). To prove this point, one may note figures such as William Wadé Harris of the Gold Coast, Garrick Sokari Braide of Niger Delta, Simon Kimbangu of the Congo, and Isaiah Shembe of South Africa. These figures pioneered indigenous forms of African Pentecostalism and were responsible for the emergence of African Initiated Churches (AICs) (J. K. Asamoah-Gyadu, 2006).
The hallmarks of Pentecostalism in Africa
Pentecostalism, be it in Africa or elsewhere, is not monolithic. Nevertheless, there remain points of commonality between its manifold expressions, three of which are:
- A clear call for regeneration through repentance and trust in the person and works of Christ.
- An emphasis on the baptism of the Holy Spirit (as a distinct experience, subsequent to regeneration) in empowering the individual for the mission of God. For classical Pentecostals this is evidenced in the speaking of languages (glossolalia) not learned (cf. Acts 1:4,8; 2:1-4), whereas Neocharismastics do not view glossolalia as mandatory (T. M. Johnson, 2014, 275).
- A regular congregational exercise of charismata pneumatika (spiritual gifts) cf. 1 Corinthians 12-14.
The use of charismata pneumatika in African Pentecostalism
To be African is to be informed by multiple worldviews, worldviews that range from Ubuntu to the burgeoning Postcolonial discourse, with its many offshoots. However, common to most African worldviews is an experiential epistemology vis-à- vis the supernatural. Arguably, such a premise is one of many strands woven in concert with others, providing a tapestry diverse in hues of social categorization. For instance, in Africa, an individual’s social identity is formed by the interaction of the natural and supernatural, the collective memories of the past and present, and at times the individual’s responsibility to placate the ancestors. When a person fitting this social profile is spiritually regenerated to become a new creation in Christ, these influences are revised, jettisoned, or affirmed. Therefore, for such a person, it becomes plausible to embrace a brand of Christianity that accommodates and encourages exorcisms, deliverances, healings, and miracles. Evidently, such charismata pneumatika are continuous with biblical accounts and like in the Early Church, these phenomena are regarded as evangelistic witness to the vicarious victory of the risen Christ, cf. Acts 1:8.
The social-cultural world shaped by Pentecostalism in Africa
It is undeniable that Pentecostalism’s reach is extensive, influencing the ecclesial, political, and socio-cultural worlds similarly. This reality is further underscored by the fact that being African is not limited to the continent’s geography but is also seen in diasporic communities across the world. It follows, therefore, that Pentecostalism’s socio-cultural influence contributes to a broader, more complex African identity (K. Pype, 2015, 346–47). The ‘push and pull’ factors influencing (a) the movements of Africans to more economically stable contexts, (b) Africans grappling with chronic socio-economic disparities, and (c) the diversity of cultural richness on the continent contribute to a general understanding of Pentecostalism’s stimulus toward upward social mobility. Here, the gospel is regarded as both a message of redemption and a charter for holistic actualization. While certain abuses and excesses are prevalent in this understanding, there is a collective that applies moderation and balance in how Pentecostal expression is influencing every facet of socio-cultural life on the continent.
With a host of Africans now living, working, and worshipping in the diaspora (E. K. Bongmba, 2013, 48–50), African Pentecostalism can be regarded a global
phenomenon, distinct from other forms of Pentecostalism. Its contribution to the growth of Christianity in the West, together with its emphasis on charismata pneumatika, makes it an engaging form of Christianity that regards the West as a new frontier in missio Dei—a frontier engaged with a sure footing in both the doctrine and experience of the Holy Spirit.
- Anderson, Allan Heaton. To the Ends of the Earth: Pentecostalism and the Transformation of World Christianity. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
- Asamoah-Gyadu, J. K. “African Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity: An Overview.” 2006. https://www.lausanneworldpulse.com/themedarticles-php/464/08-2006, accessed 11th December 2017.
- “Pentecostalism and the Transformation of the African Christian Landscape.” In Pentecostalism in Africa: Presence and Impact of Pneumatic Christianity in Postcolonial Societies, edited by Martin Lindhardt, 15:100–114. Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
- Barentsen, Jack. Stephanas as Model Leader: A Social Identity Perspective on Community and Leadership (Mis)formation in Corinth. Journal of Biblical Perspectives on Leadership. Vol 3, no 2 (2011):3–13.
- Bongmba, Elias K. “African Immigrant Religions in the Diaspora.” In Communities of Faith in Africa and the African Diaspora: In Honor of Dr. Tite Tiénou, edited by Casley B. Essamuah and David K. Ngaruiya, 48–67. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013.
- Clarke, Clifton R. “Introduction: Toward an African Pentecostal Theology.” In Pentecostal Theology in Africa, edited by Clifton R. Clarke, 15–34. African Christian Studies Series 6. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2014.
- Hefner, Robert W. “The Unexpected Modern-Gender, Piety, and Politics in the Global Pentecostal Surge.” In Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century, edited by Robert W. Hefner, 1–36. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.
- Johnson, Todd M. “Counting Pentecostals Worldwide.” Pneuma 36, no. 2 (2014): 265–88.
- Johnson, Todd M, and Gina A. Zurlo, eds. “Pentecostals/ Charismatics by Region in Africa, 2015.” World Christian Database. Lieden/ Boston: Brill, 2015.
- Martin, David. “Pentecostalism: An Alternative Form of Modernity and Modernization?” In Global Pentecostalism in the 21st Century, edited by Robert W. Hefner, 37–62. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.
- Kok, Jacobus, K. Social identity complexity theory as heuristic tool in New Testament studies. HTS Theological Studies. Vol 70, no 1 (2014):1–9.
- Ogungbile, David. “African Pentecostalism and the Prosperity Gospel.” In Pentecostal Theology in Africa, edited by Clifton R. Clarke, 153–72. African Christian Studies 6. Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2014.
- Pype, Katrien. “The Livelinesss of Pentecostal/ Charismatic Popular Culture in Africa.” In Pentecostalism in Africa: Presence and Impact of Pneumatic Christianity in Postcolonial Societies, edited by Martin Lindhardt, 345–78. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2015.
The term “Pentecostalism” is inclusive of a plethora of groups with divergent theological persuasions. For instance, the Oneness movement in China, the New Frontiers international family of churches, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God of Brazil, the ‘Neocharismastics’, and the Word of Faith Churches, are located on different points of the theological spectrum, yet all can be regarded “Pentecostal” in the broader sense of the term. It is the latter which informs the use of the term in this article.
I am making the point that ‘Africanness’ is not monolithic but rather an experience of multiple identities living in dynamic tension with each other. For more on this subject see Social Identity Theory (SIT) and Social Identity Complexity (SIC) as covered by Barentsen, J. 2011. Stephanas as Model Leader: A Social Identity Perspective on Community and Leadership (Mis)formation in Corinth. Journal of Biblical Perspectives on Leadership. 3(2):3–13, and Kok, J.K. 2014. Social identity complexity theory as heuristic tool in New Testament studies. HTS Theological Studies. 70(1):1–9.