What is the History of Christianity in Africa?

By Faith and Rain, 17 January, 2024
Africans celebrating in their culture

According to Wikipedia, 49% of Africa’s population is Christians. This means Christians make up a significant majority in Africa.

But how did Christianity arrive in Africa, and who brought the religion to African countries?

To help you understand the history of Christianity in Africa below is a complete outline of African Christianity History.

What is the History of Christianity in Africa?

Christianity is a religion founded on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Although it began with Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, it has penetrated many countries, including African countries.

Based on Wikipedia, Christianity in Africa arrived first in northern Egypt in the 1st century.

Hence, African communities in North Africa are the first to receive Christianity.

This was around the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

According to various sources, Christianity was brought to Alexandria in Egypt from Jerusalem by Mark the Apostle.

Mark the Apostle, who is credited to be the author of the book Gospel of Mark, went to Alexandria and established the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

Also, there is a reference of African Christian history in the Bible’s Acts of the Apostles.

Reference of African Christian History

Acts 8:26-40 - Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

27 So he started out, and on his way, he met an Ethiopian[a] eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship,

28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.

29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,

and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,

so he did not open his mouth.

Humiliation and Justice

33 In his humiliation, he was deprived of justice.

Who can speak of his descendants?

For his life was taken from the earth.”[b]

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”

35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”

[37] [c] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Christianity Spread Slowly

Later, Christianity spread slowly from North Africa to other African countries.

However, it was embraced as a rebellious religion against the Roman Empire.

Later in the 4th century AD, King Ezana of Ethiopia made Christianity the official religion of the Kingdom.

In 312 AD, Emperor Constantine made the religion the official one of the Roman Empire.

During the 7th Century, Christianity moved back due to the advancement of Islam in Africa.

However, it remained the preferred religion of Ethiopia.

In the 15th century, Christianity spread to Saharan Africa when the Portuguese arrived.

In 1652, the Dutch founded the beginnings of the Dutch Reform Church in the South of Africa.

However, most Africans still followed their own religions and cultures and worshiped other gods.

But in the 19th century, missionaries to Africa were included due to the antislavery crusade and the interest of Europeans in colonizing African countries.

There came education, hope for the marginalized, and literacy with Christian missionaries.

It is believed Christianity was an agent of change in Africa.

Is Christianity the main religion in Africa?

Even though Christianity is the main religion in Africa, it is not the main one.

Based on Wikipedia findings, Christianity and Islam are the main religions.

Also, there are several beliefs and practices of traditional religions.

Some Africans, especially in West Africa, combine their traditional belief with the practice of Christianity or Islam.

Christianity in Africa

Africa has a long and complex history with Christianity, which has been present on the continent since the first century.

The faith initially spread through merchant traders and missionaries, and grew rapidly in the 20th century due to increased missionary activity and growing numbers of African converts.

Today, there are an estimated 350 million Christians in Africa, making up over 45% of the population.

Christianity has had a significant impact on African culture and society, shaping everything from art and architecture to education and governance.

The continent's Christian traditions are also diverse, with a range of denominations represented across different countries.

While Christianity faces some challenges in Africa - including increasing competition from Islam - it remains one of the most widely practiced religions on the continent.

Islam in Africa

The other major religion in Africa is Islamic. Islam began to spread through Africa in the 7th century AD. At first, it was spread by Arab traders and missionaries. Later, it was spread by African Muslims who had converted to Islam.

Today, Islam is one of the largest religions in Africa, with over 350 million followers. 41 percent of the African population are Muslims. However, religion is dominated in North America and some countries in the Horn of Africa.

Judaism in Africa

The history of Judaism in Africa is a long and complex one, dating back to ancient times. There are many Jewish communities throughout the continent, each with their own unique history and culture.

While the majority of Jews in Africa are descended from European immigrants, there is also a large population of African Jews who trace their ancestry back to the original inhabitants of the continent.

Judaism has been present in Africa for centuries, and it has played a significant role in the development of many African cultures.

Over the years, it has evolved and adapted to meet the needs of local populations, resulting in a variety of distinct Jewish traditions across the continent.

Today, Judaism remains an important part of African life, and it is estimated that there are millions of Jews living in Africa.

Which religion did Africans practice before Christianity?

Before introducing Christianity in Africa, there were many traditional African religions.

However, the traditions were more oral rather than spiritual.

Also, they were passed from one generation to another through songs, tales, festivals, and beliefs.

What is the difference between African traditional religion and Christianity?

Although Christianity and African traditional religions believe in a Supreme Being, there are several differences.

First, Christians believe in a God who exists in three persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, traditional African religions believed in the existence of lesser gods and a Supreme God.

In addition, they believed in the power of magicians, witchcraft, and medicine men.

Before Christianity, they consulted witches, magicians, lesser gods, and traditional healers to cure diverse illnesses.

But today, Christians in Africa believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

How did Africans benefit from Christianity?

Christianity was an instrument of change in Africa.

It weakened the status quo in the continent by bringing many new opportunities.

Christianity came with literacy, education, and hope for the marginalized.

The missionaries also helped the poor; the doctors treated the sick and spread the good news to all.

Final words about Christianity in Africa

Even though there are many religions in Africa, Christianity is one of the major religions. It has spread across the entire continent of Africa. Christians in Africa believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

Moreover, many churches in Africa believe in Jesus Christ. The African Christians have stopped believing in witches, magicians, and lesser gods. They believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Posts related to Christianity in Africa: