Administering The Church Through A Perception Of African World View, Culture Of Societies, Religion

It is important to understand a people’s world view in order to administer to them effectively. What do we mean by world view? World view is defined as the “outlook upon the universe that is characteristic of a people. It is the picture the members of a society have of the properties and characters upon their stage of action.”

The world view of a people governs their perception of the material and spiritual universe and their response to the elements perceived within the universe. A people’s world view determined their social order and their traditional beliefs. Africans have a world view which has defined for the African a religious perception. It is no wonder, then, that we find in many of today’s churches in Africa a people living in accordance with the perceptions of two world views – that of African Traditional Religion and that of Christianity.

Are we right to say Africans have a religion of their own? Let’s firstly consider that which constitutes religion. One attempt to define religion expresses it in the following way. “Any system of beliefs, symbols and rituals that make life meaningful and intelligible”.1 E. Bolaji Idowu looks at religion as inherent in the innermost being of man and prevalent in the circumstances of life. It is always with us at every moment of life.2 John S. Mbiti describes Africans as notoriously religious. From place-to-place within the continent, each people has its own religious system with a set of beliefs and practices. The religion of the African permeates into all departments of life in such a way that it becomes difficult or impossible to always isolate beliefs and practices from life-style.3

As one travels from place-to-place within the African continent, Mbiti’s statement can readily be substantiated. One interacts with a people who have a belief system handed down by their ancestors. That belief system is inherent in the innermost being of the African. Therefore, we see a people who before the Christian era in Africa practiced their own religion.

The local church in Africa has the mission of the church to accomplish. Should it accomplish its mission through confronting and rejecting African religion or culture? Or, should it accomplish its mission through a fusion of African religion and culture which would enhance the mission of the Church and fulfill its nature while letting the word of God take preeminence?

The writer would subscribe to the last question. The last question stands in line with the approach of the mission of the first century church. Paul incorporated aspects of the people’s social framework (religion/culture) which would enhance the mission of the church while letting the revelation of God in Scripture take preeminence. It is important, therefore, for the Pastor who would administer the local church in an African context to have a perception of African world view. He does so in order to make his administering both biblically and contextually relevant to the people.

We will now go on to consider aspects of African world view and the necessity of African world view for administering the local church.

Aspects of African World View

1. View about the Universe.

Different tribal groups have myths which ascribe the creation of the universe to God. The nature and attributes of God are expressed through different names. The universe is conceived of as both visible and invisible.

There is law and order in the universe. This order is seen in the laws of nature, in moral order which governs community life, in religious order which prevents the community from offending departed ancestors or the divinities, in the mystical order which is hidden in the universe. Power emanates from the mystical order and is available to spirits and to certain human beings. Man sees himself as the center of the universe. There he utilizes the power of the universe in order to live in consonance with the universe.4

2. Belief in a Supreme Being

This Supreme Being is the Creator God. Myths among various African tribes ascribe the creation of the universe to God. The Mendes refer to him as Ngewo; the Konos as Yata; the Temnes as Kuru. The Ashanti people of Ghana call him Nyame. The Yoruba call him Olorun which means “owner of the sky.” There are various myths also which explain the extreme transcendence of God.5

3. Belief in spirits

Nature spirits are of two kinds:

i Divinities

These categories of nature spirits are conceived of as God’s agents or personification. They are associated with major phenomena of nature such as the sun, the moon, the stars, “the falling stars,” rain, storm wind, thunder and lightening.6For instance, in Yoruba tradition, the divinity sango represents the manifestation of God’s wrath; thus he is the divinity of thunder and lightening.7

ii Spirits

This category of spirits are immaterial and incorporeal beings. They may on occasions, however, assume any form if they wish to be seen. They are regarded as ubiquitous – “there is no area of the earth, no object or creature, which has not a spirit of its own.” These spirits inhabit trees, rocks, forests, lakes, streams, rivers, animals insects, mountains and hills. They are also associated with certain diseases.8

b. Ancestral Spirits

In African understanding, human life does not end in death. The dead becomes a “living dead”. Ceremonies are performed in honor of the dead and there is dependence on the dead for protection, provision and good luck. It is the view that the dead can communicate especially through dreams. The concept of “living dead” connotes that the ancestors have merely transferred from physical existence to a spiritual existence but they still remain an integral part of the human life of the living kith and kin.9

4. View of Man

In African myths of the created universe, man is put as the center of the universe. God is transcendent and he lives in the heavenly part of the universe. Man lives on the earth and he becomes the one who links the universe with its creator. African peoples consider the usefulness of the universe to man. Thus, man seeks what the world can do for him and how he can use the world for his own good.

Man is not the master of the universe. He is only the center. Forces outside of Man, in the spirit world, control the order of the universe. Consequently, Man’s primary task is to live in consonance with the forces that govern the universe through obeying the Laws of the natural order, the moral order, the religious order and the mystical order. The natural order has to do with moral laws which the supreme being has given human communities in order to maintain sanity. The religious order has to do with obeying of taboos. The mystical order has to do with the power contained in the universe.10

We have cited four broad aspects of the African world view. It is these aspects which account for the nature of the organization of traditional African communities. The organization is influenced by the underlying philosophy that the spiritual universe is a unit with the physical universe. Therefore, for the African, the spiritual universe and the material universe “intermingle and dovetail into each other so much so that it is not easy, or even necessary at times to draw a distinction or separate them”11

Practices within African World View

What practices, then, emanate from the African Philosophy of the Universe? The pivotal practice is that of communal living. In a village community, there is the Chief, the elders and families. In some cases, some families combine to form clans. Communal living is described as pivotal because it is around it that other practices revolve.

There are laws which govern the communal structure. Such laws exist to enable the community to maintain harmony with the spiritual universe and derive benefits therewith. Therefore, it is incumbent on everyone to keep the laws. The breaking of community laws or taboos is sin because it disrupts the moral and religious order.

Sin falls into two categories: Major sins and Minor sins. Major sins include violation of tribal taboos, such as the revealing of the secrets of a secret society; adultery with a neighbors or the wife of a relative, stealing; murder; and witchcraft. Minor sins include lying, cheating, trespassing on a neighbor’s property, child abuse, bitterness, disobedience, selfishness, failure to show hospitality to strangers, unkindness, petty stealing and related matters.

Major sins are dealt with at community level while minor sins are dealt with by families or friends. Severe punishments are given for major sins. We need to note that sin is not an offense against God. Rather, it is an offense against the community or against cosmic order. Therefore, forgiveness consists of the acceptance of the guilty person(s) by the community after the prescribed penalty has been fulfilled.12

Communal living incorporates several practices. Let us consider some key practices. First, there is the offering of sacrifices. Sacrifices are offered to the nature spirits (or divinities) when a taboo is violated, a sin committed, or when illness occurs in the family or bad dreams or repeated failures in endeavors. sacrifices are offered to ward off evil spirits.13 Sacrifices are offered to the ancestors as an act of propitiation or to seek help.14 Second, there is the practice of initiation. Initiation transforms the individual from an outsider in the community to an insider, it marks the dawn of transition into adulthood; it provides a medium for education on tribal heritage.15 Third, there is the practice of marriage. The family is the basic unit of the village. Marriage is considered a sacred act because God gave it as the means for maintaining an on-going flow of life on earth. He who refuses to be married is considered as committing a major offense against society and people will not deal kindly with him.16 Fourthly, there are the observance of various forms of rituals: rituals for the new-born; rituals for deceased persons; rituals for agricultural seasons et cetera.

The African philosophy of the universe and its resultant effect in the organization of communal living has led to the developing of African values. The following ten values are found among communities of African peoples.

1. Concern for sacredness of life

Myths among African tribes ascribe the creation of man to God, so life is considered God-given. Therefore, it must not be willfully and callously destroyed. In view of this, there are heavy fines and penalties for murder. Some who commit suicide are denied funeral rites.

2. A people-Centered Orientation

The people are linked to the Chief who is the divine ruler. A good Chief is one who is people-centered and that would be reflected in the way he takes care of his people. Africans place more premium on people.

3. A Sense of Community

The African does not live in isolation of the community. There is mutual support between the individual and the community – the individual contributes to the community and the community contributes to the individual. Festivals and rituals contribute to the well-being of the community and give a personal sense of belonging to the individual; thus, it is mandatory for each one to participate. The more serious crimes are those committed against society.

4. Respect for Age

Old age is a crown for the African. In traditional African society, young men do not sit in councils; rather, it is the old men. This goes with the belief that wisdom goes with age. The old folks are respected in the village.

5. A Holistic View of Reality

There is no dichotomy between the sacred and the secular in African world view; no dichotomy between individual and community; no dichotomy between the visible world and the invisible world. Reality is one unit. It cannot be compartmentalized.

6. Respect for nature and tolerance of other religions

Man is the center of the universe; yet, he does not consider himself the master. He acknowledges forces outside of himself, which are powerful. Nature offers power through herbal medicines so man respects nature by living in consonance with it. There is also tolerance towards other religions and, often time, syncretism results.

7. Respect of history

There is a strong historical consciousness in African world view. History informs the individual or community as well as instructs. A high regard is put on historical values and traditions. Such values and traditions are passed on orally.

8. Concern for Morality

There is strong regard for morals and ethics. Morals and ethics have more of a community dimension rather than a personal one. We discussed this earlier when we considered the category of sins. The motive for ethics is to maintain honor rather than bring shame to the community.

9. Concern for Power

Man seeks to have power to maintain harmony with the universe. The African recognizes his co-existence with good spirits and malevolent spirits. He seeks to obtain power for his own protection and for the protection and welfare of the community. It is in this regard that the medicine men, the diviners, mediums and seers become a legitimate entity.

10. Concern for the Now

There is no distinct future in the understanding of the African. There is the emphasis of living well now so as to continue in that same status when one dies and becomes a part of the invisible world. The invisible world is interwoven in the visible.17

We have reflected on aspects of African world view so as to give the pastor of the local church in Africa a concise understanding of he culture and people which constitute the sphere of his administration. The local church in the African context has been strongly influenced by the forms of Western Christianity brought by missionaries of the colonial and post-colonial periods. Some have created rifts between Christianity and African culture out of ignorance of the cultural values. If the local church is to be administered biblically and contextually, then an understanding of the African world view ought to be given serious consideration.

Necessity of African world View for Administering the Local Church

Is a perception of African world view necessary for administering the local church in Africa? There are several considerations which after they have been discussed will have the answer implicit in them.

1. The Nature of the Church

We should note that the Church is the ecclesia of God, the body of Christ and the Koinonia of redeeming love. The term ecclesia parallels the African understanding of community. The concept of ‘body of Christ’ parallels the understanding of people-centerdness. The term Koinonia parallels the functional aspect of body-life in the African practice of community and people-centerdness. The pastor of the local church, then, already has a people with a social structure which can enhance the mission of the Church.

2. The Mission of the Church

The Mission of the church involves warning and teaching everyone in order to present everyone perfect in Christ. Furthermore, it involves preparing God’s people for works of service.

Many have engaged in carrying out the mission of the church among African peoples but they have done so from preconceived notions. Consequently, rather than making a break-through, barriers were built. Others claim to have a perception of African world view but lack knowledge of the mission of the church. Consequently, an African Christian Church is established in which all of African traditions, rather than Christ, is the center.

The pastor’s task in administering the local church cannot produce positive results for the Kingdom of God if he lacks two key factors: (i) A perception of African world view; and (ii) An understanding of the mission of the church. In Chapters one to six we have discussed the elements involved in the administering of the local church.

3. The image of Western Christianity

Western Christianity has been equated with biblical Christianity. As a result, the cultural elements of the west have filtered along with the gospel as Western missionaries proclaimed the good news. That image exists today in the form of church liturgies, the musical instruments that are used, in the form of dressing, in the style of music, in the structure of church buildings et cetera.

If a truly biblically-centered African church is to be established in Africa, Western cultural forms which do not fit an African world view should be replaced by African thought-forms and practices.

4. The need to enhance ministry

The African has a holistic view of reality. There is a no dichotomy between sacred and secular, individual and community, visible and invisible world. He is concerned about community, visible and invisible world. He is concerned about power for protection and the keeping of consonance with the universe. Will a cold, formal Christianity achieve the objective of mission among the Africans? No! He wants a vibrant Christianity – a Christianity with the manifestations of God’s power and the guarantee of protection over him.

The pastor who administers without a perception of African world view administers a church where the felt traditional needs of the people are not met. Therefore, the people hold on to that which meets their felt needs. Christianity, as such, becomes a religion of convenience or a family heritage or a community interactive group. It bears no Christ-centered substance for the people.

5. The fostering of constructive Apologies

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and The Life, no one comes to the father except through me.” (Jn.14:6). This claim of Jesus carries two aspects to it: (i) the claim to particularity; and (ii) the claim to universality.

Particularity refers to distinctiveness. The distinctiveness of the claim is that it is through Christ alone, on the basis of His substitutionary atonement for sinners, that sinful humanity can obtain forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God and the assurance of a future life in God’s presence.

Universality, on the other hand, refers to absoluteness. The universality of the claim denotes that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not intended only for the geographical zone where Christ proclaimed His Gospel. Jesus’ commission to the disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8 confirms the universality of the mission of Jesus.

Therefore, in administering the local church in the African context the pastor has to engage himself in constructive apologetics. This would involve presenting the claims of Christ and the absolute authority of the word of God in the Bible over culture. But in doing this, the pastor must firstly fully understand the Biblical world view and the African world view. Then he proceeds from this standpoint of comprehensive knowledge of both world views to determine three aspects of the African world view: (i) aspects which are diametrically opposed to biblical world view; (ii) aspects which are amoral in relation to the biblical world view. and need careful interpretation; and (iii) aspects which are complementary with the biblical world view.

The pastor should be involved in administering the local church through organization, through promoting stewardship, through pastoral nurture, through mobilizing the church for evangelism and through church planting. The three aspects categorized above would greatly influence the pastor’s task in administering the local church in the African context. Constructive, contextualized apologetics cannot be fostered unless the pastor has a thorough perception of the African view of the world and the implications of that world view on African thought forms and practices.

The five aforementioned considerations give us a yes answer to the question which was posed earlier in this section. a perception of African world view is certainly necessary for administering the local church in Africa. It is unfortunate, however, that in some situations pastors do not have a comprehensive knowledge of the African world view. Consequently, they end up administering the church with a westernized version of theology. such uninformed pastors produce a congregation of misinformed people who may develop any of the following attitudes: (i) reject their cultural values in the name of a misinformed Christianity; (ii) inwardly reject the version of Christianity presented to them and firmly hold on to their African tradition in all its fullness; yet they feel compelled to remain in the church due to certain external conditions; (iii) reject the church and its teachings and continue in their African tradition.

End Notes

1Jack Redford, Planting New Churches Nashville: Broadman Press, 1978.

2Annie Gressman, The Pastor (Kenya: Evangel Publishing House, 1957), pp. 9-10.

3Ibid., p. 34

4Fred Plog and Daniel G Bates, Cultural Anthropology (New York: Alfred A Knoff, Inc., 1976), p. 226.

5E Bolaji Idowu, African Traditional Religion – “A Definition” (London: SCM Pres Ltd., 1978), p. 1.

6John S Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, (London: Heineman Educational Books Ltd., 1970), p.76.

7John S Mbiti, Introduction to African Religion, (London: Sheldon Press, 1976), pp. 32-40.

8Geoffry Parrinder, African Traditional Religion, (London Sheldon Press, 1976), pp.32-40.

9Mbiti, Introduction to African Religion, pp. 66-67.

10Mbiti, African Religions, and Philosophy, p.76.

11Idowu, p. 174.

12Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, p. 83.

13Mbiti, Introduction to African Religion, pp. 32-39

14Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, p. 75.

15Tolunboh Adeyemo, Salvation in African Tradition (Nairobi: Evangel Publishing House, 1979), pp. 54-56.

16Parrinder, pp. 72-73.

17Ibid., p. 62.

Source by Leopold A. Foullah