Lessons from the Church in North Africa for today – Global South Day 2

Oct 4, 2016 by

Chris Sugden in Cairo

The Rt Rev Dr Bill Musk, a scholar of Islam and former Area Bishop of North Africa in Tunis spoke on Tuesday morning of the history of the Church in Carthage (now Tunis) hub of Roman province of Africa. He noted, regretfully, that there are many very significant Christian sites in Tunis which the conference could have visited last year but for the security danger which postponed the conference.

He noted that since the revolution ( part of the Arab Spring) many people who had had dreams of Jesus, or experienced healing through him had become friends and followers of Jesus. However the institutional church is not growing. This could lead to possible tension, between those Christians who supported an insider movement within Tunisian society so that new believers remain Muslim or whether that was a betrayal of faith? Careful pastoring is needed of these new believers, since many were still influenced by the occult and by gossip used in a very hierarchical society to shame and tame rivals. Such long term pastoring was not necessarily the gift of those who planted churches, as Paul the apostle recognized when he appointed the much younger but more pastoral Timothy to look after the church in Ephesus.

Recalling the martyrs of the North African Church and the cost for people becoming Christians today, part of process of educating and forming new believers in Christ involves a call to discipleship. People in Tunis are taken to sites where they recite the Apostle’s creed. They are made aware that the process of becoming a follower of Jesus does not allow for hiding. The call is to love Jesus whatever the cost.

He asked whether we support those who suffer for their faith, who live faithfully and uncomfortably for Christ in a world dislocated from God. Yet, how do we view those who have given in to faithless norms of society of which they are a part?

While persecution had led to a scattering and spread of Christians throughout history, North Africa had demonstrated how theologising arises as a result of changing facts on the ground which require Christians to think biblically about what their response might be. In Acts 15 church leaders sought to discern from scripture and whispers from the Holy Spirit how to handle the relation between Christians of Jewish and Gentile origin. In Carthage, Donatists went for high standards for bishops and felt a parallel structure was only way to preserve the church. Augustine in contrast developed a theology of God using even evil bishops to speak the gospel since God was able to overrule. “What are the changing facts on the ground that cause us to rethink or restate our theology?” he asked. Different conclusions he said, reflected different ethnic and cultural background. Christians with a Latin background had been more compassionate, the indigenous Burber church in Cathage were more uncompromising.

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