How to Adapt Truth

Evangelism in Changing Africa

John M. Staples, Department of Religion, Solusi College, Bulawayo, Rhodesia

Success in evangelism depends to a large degree upon the ability of the evangelist to present the timeless and never-changing message in the framework and setting of a changing world. He must speak in context. His approach and his methods must be rele­vant to the times, cir­cumstances, and customs of the people among whom he is working. They must be clothed in the garb of the people, otherwise the message will be thought of as odd, of foreign importation, and therefore not for them. If we expect people to sit up and take heed, the presentation of the message must be such as will cause them to do so.

This does not mean compromise or seek­ing common ground with heathenism, as some are advocating today. It was my privi­lege not too long ago to attend a conference of theological tutors who had come from various parts of Africa. One of the lecturers, a Nigerian professor, spoke each day on this theme, endeavoring to show that the con­cepts of the heathen and the Christian on subjects such as God, man, the world, mo­rality, evil, et cetera, are not so different and that there should be a closer working between the missionary and the leaders of pagan worship. He deplored the fact that the missionary regarded the non-Christian as one who had no light at all, and felt that the missionary should take him where he finds him and lead him from what he has to a fuller knowledge of God as revealed in the Bible. He said, for instance, that we should not tell these people that their gods of wood and stone are useless, but use them as a means of teaching them more about the true God. He went so far as to say that we should enter their temples, use their shrines and ju-jus, to lead them to the truth about the living God. There may be a grain of truth in this approach, but one can see the danger of such a teaching. This idea, however, is becoming quite popular in certain circles, especially among those of the ecumenical movement. One writer has this to say:

The missionaries came with Christianity but missed the open gate for Christianization. The mes­sage was not applied to the existing forms of wor­ship. . . . They would have won many people by transforming the old belief into the new and by changing the way of approaching Almighty. . . . Something must be done [to establish contact] between the old belief and Christianity. Connect both—there is the key to enter the African door and the African's heart.—BENGT SUNDKLER, The Christian Ministry in Africa, pp. 110, 111.

We believe there is a better way of appeal­ing to the people of Africa, and the ex­perience of the past few large campaigns has shown it to be sound. This way creates widespread interest and clears many mis­conceptions about Christianity that anti-Christian propagandists have used so effectively for far too long. We who live and work in Africa are fortunate in having so much Biblical information about this country and thus have an advantage over others who are working in countries not mentioned in the Bible. Our method and approach is to make use of Biblical and secular history. This appeals to both Chris­tians and non-Christians alike.

We feature countries of Africa mentioned in the Scriptures and show the important part they played in God's plan for the salvation of man. The method also capital­izes on the strong feeling of nationalism that is prevalent in Africa today. The cam­paign title being used for the effort now in progress here in Malawi is "Africa and the Bible." The motif—a map of Africa with an open Bible across it—appears on all pieces of advertising. (See picture.)

It might be of interest to readers if I should give the titles to some of the sub­jects, with a little resume of what is pre­sented with each. In my last campaign 1 used each of the following subjects on Sundays, and they have always drawn large crowds.

I. Africa in the Bible (Opening subject of the series)

Because of its size and the ,fact that it was the seat of one of the earliest civiliza­tions of mankind, Africa or parts of it has occupied an important place in affairs of the world. To the Christian student of the Bible, Africa also occupies an important place, for it was on this continent that God early endeavored to establish a knowledge of Himself. The word "Africa" is not men­tioned in the Bible, but several countries of Africa are—Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia.

1. Egypt

After the Flood the descendants of Noah spread in different directions. Mizraim, grandson of Noah, moved down to Africa and there established the Egyptian nation. Clever people soon developed a high form of civilization. Excavation by archeologists reveal cities, temples, shops, houses, schools, et cetera. When Abraham came to Egypt (Africa) he found a civilization 1,000 years old. Schools taught arts and sciences—writing, mathematics, astronomy, art, medi­cine, et cetera. But these people were heathen, worshiping many gods repre­sented by birds, animals, reptiles. To them God tried to bring a knowledge of Himself through contact with His people. Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, Moses, and later the Israel­ites in Canaan had contacts with Egypt.

Greatest of all to visit Africa was Jesus. He was born in a neighboring country but fled with his parents. What a privilege to have been host to Him! How proud Africa should be today to know it offered refuge and protection to the Saviour of the world. No other country has that honor.

2. Libya

Mentioned directly several times in the Bible (Eze. 30:5; Acts 2:10). Jesus had another direct contact with Africa through a man from Libya (Matt. 27:32). Cyrene was a city of Libya west of Egypt in North Africa. What an honor to carry the cross of Christ! This honor was not given to a Jew but to a Gentile, not to a white man but to a black man. How we wish that Africans today would take up the cross of Jesus!


3. Ethiopia (Also known as Cush, Nubia)

Ethiopia is frequently mentioned in the Bible in connection with rivers (Zeph. 3:10); precious stones (Job 28:19); and great place of trade (Isa. 45:14). Many products came from central Africa—gold, silver, ivory. 1 Kings 10:22 suggests that Solomon got much of his wealth from Africa. The Queen of Sheba is believed to have come from Ethiopia. Acts 8:26-30 tells the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

The result of all this contact with Africa was that the knowledge of the true God of Christianity became firmly established in Africa. During the time of the apostles Christianity spread from Egypt down the Nile into Ethiopia, and its influence is seen today in the Coptic Church of both countries. It flourished for hundreds of years along the North African coast in territory now occupied by nations of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya and reached its height between A.D. 180 and 430, with hundreds of bishops and three popes coming from Africa. This early African church produced some great scholars—Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine—and this was 400 years before missionary efforts began in Britain. One thousand years before the Bible was trans­lated into English it was translated into several African dialects, such as Sahidic and Boharic. From all this, two most important facts emerge which we need to know:

a. Christianity, the religion of Jesus, is not foreign to Africa, not something new brought by the white man within the past one hundred years (see Acts 2:10; John 3:16).

b. God is interested in Africa. Look what He has done to reveal Himself to this nation. Recapitulate the above facts. Now appeal to the people of Africa to turn to God. Africa will respond (Ps. 68:31; Zeph. 3:10).

II. Does Africa Need a New Religion? Has Christianity failed?

Among changes taking place in Africa is the attitude toward Christianity, the religion of Jesus. Christianity has been associated with the European, and now that he is leaving in some parts, Africans feel he should take his religion with him and leave them free to return to their national and tribal gods. A growing number of younger intellectuals feel that Christianity has had its chance in Africa, and that it has failed and is out of date. They consider that they should look for a new religion. Conclusions like these are based on wrong assumptions such as:

I. People of Africa are different.

This is not true (Acts 17:26). The change wrought by sin is the same in all peoples.

1. Needs of Africans are different.

If all are the same, then their needs are the same. What is good for one is good for the other. Cultures, backgrounds, may be different, but basic needs are the same.

2. Religion of Jesus is the religion of the European.

Briefly review some of the facts of "Africa in the Bible" and discuss the true purpose of religion—to bring men into contact with God by removing the barriers that separate and establishing fellowship and communion with divine reality. No other religion accomplishes this. How is it done? In three ways:

a. By a perfect revelation of the object of man's search—God (Heb. 1:1-3; John 1:1-3, 10, 14, 18). At first partially, later fully and finally in Jesus. What Jesus was, God is.

b. By the removal of the barrier between man and God. This was the purpose of Jesus' coming (Isa. 53:5; 59:2; John 1:29; 1 Peter 2:22-24).

c. By perfect reconciliation. Man now in favor and fellowship with God. Now in spirit, later in reality (Acts 3:19-21).

How can anyone say Christianity is out of date? Why has Christianity seemed to fail? Many have found it in conflict with their own carnal desires. Others have tried to adapt it so suit themselves. Thus it has lost its vitality.

The trouble is with the human heart (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21; Rom. 8:7). Chris­tianity through Jesus gives a new heart (2 Cor. 5:17). Christianity has not failed. Africa needs no new religion, for no other religion can remove the barrier of sin and bring man into fellowship with God. Of course, the religion of the true God may be new to some. The call of the hour is for men and women to arise and live Christianity. This is the only hope of Africa. Christianity has been proved effective for Africa. Illus­trate—Christian martyrs of North Africa and Uganda.

III. When Christ Returns to Africa (Second Coming)

He has been here before as a babe. At that time He came as the Saviour of the world. When He returns He will come as King of kings and Lord of lords.

IV.    Why Africa Is Changing so Quickly (Signs of the Times)

One of the astonishing facts of our time is the rapidity of change in Africa. Changes that have come to other countries have been more gradual. What is the meaning of it all? Why has it come now? Why so quickly? Answers can be found in the Bible (Dan. 12:4). Through these rapid changes God is calling men to understand we are living in the "last days." This message has come to other countries. People of Africa must also know. This is the real reason that Africa is changing so quickly. Unless we see this in what is taking place around us, we will miss the message God has for us. Jesus cannot come until Africa has heard and is prepared for His coming. Can we be sure that we are living in the last days? Then follow with a discussion of modern inventions and other signs that confirm the fact that we are living in the last days.

V.      Why Africa Has Largely Forgotten God

Africa, together with other countries, has largely forgotten God. Even those countries that have known Christianity for hundreds of years and are professedly Christian are not really so—England, America, Russia, et cetera. In our study on "Africa and the Bible" we found that knowledge of the true God and Christianity came to Africa in early times. The result was that Chris­tianity became firmly established in Africa (see The Great Controversy, pp. 63, 577). What happened? Why is the situation so different today? God gave man a gift at the beginning by which to remember Him. His gift was the Sabbath (Eze. 20:20). The loss of the Sabbath resulted in loss of the knowledge of God (see The Great Contro­versy, p. 438). Then follow with a discussion of the Bible Sabbath reform coming. Many from Africa will accept the Sabbath reform message to be preached in the last days (see Prophets and Kings, p. 189).

VI.    Africa's Greatest Son

Present the story of Moses and his choice to serve God rather than become a king of the mightiest African empire of the world.

VII.  God's Plan for a Better Africa

We greatly admire and respect all who are working for better conditions for their people—those working for a better Africa. God has such a plan too. The greatest discovery of life is to find that for 6,000 years God has had such a plan (Acts 3: 19-21).

These are only a few suggestions of what might be done to slant the message to Africa. Further helpful material will be found in the little book For a Better Africa, written by R. J. Wieland and pub­lished by the East African Publishing House, Kendu Bay, Kenya. Brother Wieland and I have worked together on some of these sermon titles, and his book will be found to be a useful aid to evange­listic workers in Africa.

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John M. Staples, Department of Religion, Solusi College, Bulawayo, Rhodesia

December 1965

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