Africa experiences vibrant Christianity but shows ecumenical deficit

While successive waves of missionaries from different Christian denominations over centuries have divided African converts among the different branches of Christianity (leaving aside the impact of African Initiated Churches independent from missionary denominations), ecumenical institutional initiatives remain “generally unknown in parishes, Christian groups and families,” writes Josée Ngalula in La Croix International (January 24). Ngalula, a Religious Sister of Saint Andrew in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the first African woman ever to be appointed to the Vatican-sponsored International Theological Commission, writes that while there has been a legacy of antagonism based on membership in different churches, the ecumenical movement has had a positive impact on peaceful relations between denominations.

African Megachurch: The Kwasizabantu auditorium in Zululand seats 10000 worshipers (source: Thomas
Scarborough / Public Domain Pictures).

“African Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and Anglicans…maintain several ecumenical projects and associations in the areas of social work, Bible translation and theological cooperation” and experience “confessional fraternization” during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Ngalula writes. She adds that Pentecostal denominations mostly refuse to join, except in the case of prayers for peace initiated by civil authorities. However, she argues that the peaceful relations between mainline denominations are not developing into “any concern for the organic unity of all Christians.” Denominational migration is widespread in Africa, and these easy moves from one church to another result in a majority of Christian families on the continent being multidenominational, in turn resulting in debates and sometimes fights amongst themselves about what is “true” or “effective.” Ngalula concludes that the need for doctrinal ecumenical dialogue is urgent in Africa and that such dialogue needs to pay attention to these specific African circumstances.