The African Connection to Christianity – Part 1

Saint Mark

Why are so many young and, middle-aged people leaving the church?  I can’t speak for all of them, but I can speak to the ones I have personally talked to over the last 30 years in the African American community.  Many African Americans feel disillusioned from misinformation, disinformation, and the commercialization of the Christian faith by some.  Thus, leaving many shipwrecked in their faith.

The African Connection to Christianity series is meant to answer many of those questions I’ve been getting over the years.  This is not to lift one race or ethnic group over another, but to include ALL races and groups as it was always intended.  We will see that throughout this series.  But, like all things, there has to be a beginning.

The Christian faith began its trek around the world from the African continent.  Not only that, but those who carried the gospel were African people.  This is something that a large part of the world either neglected to mention or, intentionally deleted from history.

Dr. Thomas C. Oden wrote in his book: HOW AFRICA SHAPED THE CHRISTIAN MIND

“The global Christian mind has been formed out of a specific history, not out of bare-bones theoretical ideas.  Much of that history occurred in Africa.  Cut Africa out of the Bible and Christian memory, and you have misplaced many pivotal scenes of salvation history.  It is the story of the children of Abraham in Africa; Joseph in Africa; Moses in Africa; Mary, Joseph and Jesus in Africa; and shortly thereafter Mark and Perpetua and Athanasius and Augustine in Africa”.

Judaism and Christianity have their roots in the story of a people formed in the space between Africa and Asia.  The people from these two groups, Jews and Christians traveled from Egypt to Jerusalem to Samaria to Antioch, and from there to the rest of the world.

The early Christian footprint was formed on three continents – Asia, Africa, and Europe.  On each of these three lands were three great cities in the maps of late antiquity: Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome.

At the height of its prominence, the Afro-Hellenic city of Alexandria was the larger of the three cities.  Its importance far exceeded that of Antioch and Rome in the world of ideas, literature, and learning.

It’s important to note that the Christian leader of Alexandria came to symbolize and represent all Christians on the continent concerning the ecclesiastical organization.

Other than Alexandria, there was only one other city in the ancient world internationally recognized on the African continent as representative of a large part of Africa, Carthage.

The stand-out difference between Alexandria and Carthage was that Carthage had no known first-generation apostle comparable to St. Mark.  We will get more into the important part St. Mark played in the second part of this series.

Alexandria representing Africa was comparable to Antioch representing Asia and, Rome representing Europe.

In the first half of the first millennium, the African intellect blossomed so much that it was emulated and widely sought out by Christians of the northern and eastern Mediterranean shores.  Origen, an African, was sought out by the teachers of Caesarea Palestina.  Lactantius was invited by Emperor Diocletian (245-313) to be a teacher of literature in his Asian palace in Bythinia.  Augustine was invited to teach in Milan.  There are many other intellectual movement cases from Africa to Europe – Plotinus, Valentinus, Tertullian, Marius Victorinus, and Pachomius are just a few.

As we deep dive into the historical annals of Christianity, we need to understand how the first Christians understood and transmitted the gospel.  It is my opinion that leaving this crucial part of our Christian heritage out of our collective, and personal, conversations could leave us wanting.

For the first five hundred years of Christian history, Africa played an undeniable and pivotal role in shaping the global Christian mind.  If we are going to tell the Christian story we need to tell it all.

I hope you will find it important enough to search and find out for yourself that the Christian faith is for us all, from all of us.

This is the first of a three-part series concerning Christianity’s African connection.

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