Prophecy and power in Afro-Christian churches: a comparative analysis of the Nazareth Baptist church and the Eglise Kimbanguiste

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2002
Authors
Tishken, Joel Edward
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This project examines prophecy and the regulation of prophetic power within two of Africa's most important Afro-Christian Churches: the Nazareth Baptist Church (NBC) and the Église Kimbanguiste (EJCSK). The first was formed by Isaiah Shembe, in South Africa, in 1910. In time, Shembe was largely left to lead his church as he saw fit, despite living in a segregated country. His theology was appealing to the South African government because it promoted partial Westernization thereby creating a group of "domesticated" Zulus. The second was founded by Simon Kimbangu, in 1921, in Belgian Congo. Kimbangu came under immediate suspicion from missionaries and colonial officials. He never succeeded in divorcing himself from the actions of other prophets and was imprisoned from 1921-51. Previous studies have focused on the degree to which these churches do or do not manifest Christian orthodoxy as defined by Western theologians. However, this is a political question concerning the ownership of Christianity. In contrast, this study asserts that prophecy, not orthodoxy, is the most important factor in understanding the NBC and EJCSK. Using recorded words of the prophets, oral traditions, parables, hymns, prayers, government records, and missionary records, I argue for the centrality of prophecy in the theology and practice of these churches. The founding prophets possessed a sincere belief that they were fulfilling a divine mission. Both churches have maintained that their respective prophets were part of a Biblical sequence of prophets extending from the Old Testament to modern times. Each church has seen the Word of God as a living reality that exists in their present manifested in the Bible and through prophetic revelation. Both the NBC and EJCSK have avoided schismatic movements due to a restriction of prophetic access that reserves prophecy to the founding prophet and his male progeny. Such prophetic restriction maintains the integrity of the churches and aids in the elimination of false prophetic movements. Leadership claims are grounded in a leader's ability to prophesize, again illustrating the centrality of prophecy. Though different from EuroChristian Churches, the NBC and EJCSK are fully Christian in every sense of the word.

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