African Reformed Churches: Confessional Reformation in Africa

By Simon Jooste

Reformed Christians understand the significance of the Reformation and its effect on global Christianity. In Africa, there was an extended series of Reformed missions from the sixteenth to the early twentieth centuries. But this was not the first time orthodox doctrine was taught on the continent. Africa was influential in the early church: Augustine in Algeria, Clement and Athanasius in Alexandria, and Tertullian in Tunisia all contributed in lasting ways to the trajectory of the catholic Christian faith. Their influence extended far beyond the early church to the heart of the Reformation itself via Calvin and Luther.

It is estimated that Africa will be home to around 760 million Christians by 2025. According to that statistic, Africa seems thoroughly Christianized. But is it? Africa’s Christianity suffers from the likes of the prosperity gospel, syncretism with African traditional religions, the “apostles and prophets” movement, and other forms of theological compromise. In southern Africa especially, there is an increasing Western influence of postmodern identity politics, alongside remnants of the legacy of church-endorsed Apartheid. The consequence is that contemporary African Christianity, for the most part, has re-read Scripture, creed, and confession through worldly lenses that compromise apostolic, catholic, and Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

Much like medieval Europe in the sixteenth century, Africa is poised for a reformation in our day. Sadly, many of the Reformed denominations that were established in Africa, and especially southern Africa, have exchanged biblical and confessional faithfulness for political or other agendas. So-called “confessionally Reformed” churches often prefer innovation over confessionalism to remain culturally relevant. Some have reduced Reformed confessionalism to predestination. Others have significantly distorted the doctrine of Scripture, worship, the law-gospel distinction, the church’s mission in the world, and the doctrine of vocation. For this reason, there is a need for a new confessionally Reformed denomination that will seek to renew the Reformed witness in Africa.

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