Posted On September 27, 2012

The Growth of Christianity in Uganda

by | Sep 27, 2012 | Church History

Biblical Christianity is a living organism that breathes life into the areas where it’s effects are felt. When Biblical Christianity is taught souls are converted, sin is exposed and people who were held in bondage to darkness are brought into the light of God’s presence. When this occurs Churches are birthed and communities are changed as the Word of God is proclaimed and entire societies once bound by sin are changed by God’s grace. While many Western commentators have declared that Christianity is in decline and that it must modernize its beliefs or risk being abandoned by its followers or, even worse, becoming irrelevant altogether; Professor [Philip] Jenkins contends that just the opposite is true: Christianity is on the rise again and leading to a very different religion that barely resembles the Western perception of it. It is a variation of Christianity that most Westerners are not accustomed to seeing.[1]

It was European expansion and conquest in modern times that brought Christianity back to most of the continent of Africa, beginning with the explorers of the 15th century who sailed down the western coast in an attempt to reach the Orient. Today African Christianity coexists to varying degrees with Islam.[2] The first Christian missionaries came from the Anglican Church Missionary Society and arrived in Buganda in 1877. Roman Catholic priests from the Society of Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), a French religious order, arrived two years later. Catholic and Protestant missions competed for converts in southern Uganda and became embroiled in local politics. Christianity grew quickly in Uganda in the nineteenth century by both Protestant and Catholic missionaries. This was due in large part because the missionaries used the native culture to raise up indigenous leaders to lead the churches.

Nearly 200 years after the first wave of missionaries arrived in Africa, Christianity is growing faster here than anywhere else in the world. There are more than 390 million Christians in sub- Saharan Africa today, up from 117 million in 1970, a trend due mostly to evangelism, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity in South Hamilton, Mass. There’s a lot in Africans’ circumstances that makes Christianity really resonate with them,” said Jonathan Bonk, the editor of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research in New Haven, Conn. “It’s a faith of hope for poor people.”[3]

“Christianity is at its lowest ebb in Germany,” says Fritz Stenger, who teaches at the Catholic University of East Africa in Nairobi. “In Africa it is on the march.” Stenger has lived on the continent for 30 years. He has already resided in Ethiopia and Zambia, and has lived in Kenya for three years now. And in each country he has made the same discovery: “The incidence of faith increases in direct proportion to the level of poverty. The permanent threat of war, sickness, criminality and political corruption means that the people seek consolation in the church. “No one goes to a political party meeting, but the churches are packed,” says Stenger.[4]

Today, Africans, Asians and Latin Americans are more typical representatives of Christianity than Americans or Europeans. What might it mean for the future of Christianity that its center of gravity continues to move south and east? Three key factors bear watching: (1) whether Southern Christians will challenge Northern Christianity’s 1,000-year dominance in theology and ecclesiology by producing their own reflections and practices, hearkening back to the earliest Christian centuries when they were in the majority; (2) whether the dominant languages of Christianity will continue to shift south (already by 1980, Spanish was the leading language of church membership in the world, and Chinese, Hindi, and Swahili are increasingly important languages of Christianity); and (3) whether the closer geographic proximity between Christians and Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists will on balance result in greater conflict or dialogue. With all three factors, the central question remains: “How well will the new global Christianity navigate its increasingly diverse composition and southern majority?”[5]

Professor Jenkins notes that the character of Global South Christianity is much more “conservative” than its Western counterparts in terms of belief in the supernatural and in the authority of the Bible. At the same time, the Church is more “radical” in being a Spirit movement and a people-movement more than an institutional. I agree with Philip Jenkins that social and religious trends in the Global South are more encouraging than many Christians in the West might have thought. But I would warn against any sense of inevitability about the Next Christendom. There is a battle being fought out here, and we need the prayers, the interest and the support of brothers and sisters in the stable and affluent North. In particular, I am pleased to announce the formation of the Global South Institute for Mission, Leadership and Public Policy at Uganda Christian University, which will be officially launched in mid-2003. It is our hope that this Institute will provide a venue for Christian leaders of Church and society to meet, consult and prepare for their role in the development of the African continent. In particular, the Global South Institute will feature an Anglican Identity and Mission track, which will assist Anglicans from Africa to plot their own course in the new millennium.[6]

Ugandan evangelicals have forged close ties with the powerful evangelical movement in the United States. Backed by American contributions, Ugandan churches play a growing humanitarian role, building schools, health clinics and orphanages, including in the impoverished northern half of the country, which has been wracked by civil war for the past two decades. In the 1990s, Uganda had one of the world’s highest rates of HIV infection, about 15 percent. Churches, backed by the government, launched an innovative program to educate Ugandans about the disease. By 2002 the HIV rate was down to 6 percent.  Evangelicals helped shape Uganda’s controversial, U.S.-backed anti-AIDS strategy, which emphasizes abstinence over condom use. As a result, Uganda is one of the biggest recipients of money under President Bush’s global AIDS-relief program — $239 million in the past two years — which earmarks money for abstinence programs. There’s a definite sense that the movement has grown in Uganda,” said Martin Ssempa, the 38-year-old pastor of Makerere Community Church, on the campus of Makerere University.  Now, thanks largely to Ssempa’s 8-year-old church, Uganda’s leading university has become a hotbed of Christianity, with more than 50 established prayer groups. My direction is to raise leaders for Christianity,” Ssempa said, “and the best leaders are found on college campuses. The aggressive push by evangelists such as Ssempa to recruit believers doesn’t sit well with leaders of the country’s other major religions — chiefly Islam, which claimed 12 percent of the population in a 2002 census.[7]

Christianity in Uganda is growing not only in numbers but in influence throughout Africa and the world. The characteristic of Ugandan Christianity are a high view of Scripture, Jesus and an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Acts the early Christians were driven by a model of ministry which emphasized the Word and the Spirit. For example in Acts 2 Peter preached and three thousand people were saved. It was not Peter who saved those people but the Holy Spirit used Peter’s preaching to prick the heart of his hearers, and lead them to repentance. It is such preaching that God uses even in this day and age. When the Word of God is honored with integrity God will use the preacher to bring revival to any nation of people.

When the Word of God is preached with clarity and boldness then it will pierce the dark cloud of man’s sin which results in revival both individually and corporately. Anyone who has served as a missionary can appreciate the efforts by local and international ministries to reach out to fellow brothers and sisters in foreign lands. The Lord is at work in Uganda raising up leaders for the fame of Jesus and for the usefulness of His kingdom. The Body of Christ should pray for the Churches in Uganda that they will continue to ground themselves in the Word of God and the mission of Jesus. The American Church has not learned the lesson of falling away from its first love, unlike the in Ugandan counterparts which have not had to learn the lesson of moral failures and corruption that churches in America have today. Christianity is growing in Uganda because the Churches there keep to the first love and are proactively on the mission of Jesus.

Bibliography

Hill, Jonathan, History of Christian Thought. Downer Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Johnson, Todd M, “Christianity in Global Context: Trends and Statistics, 23 October 2008, accessed 1 December 2008. http://pewforum.org/events/051805/global-christianity.pdf.

Jenkins, Phillip & Myers, Joanne J. “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 17 April 2002, accessed 1 Decemmber 2008. http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/136.html

Noll, Stephen. “Global South Christendom: Is it Inevitable?, 23 October 2008, accessed 1 December 2008. http://pewforum.org/events/051805/global-christianity.pdf.

Shashank Bengali Knight Ridder Newspapers “Uganda is leading Africa’s boom in Christianity“. Deseret News (Salt Lake City). . FindArticles.com. 11 Dec. 2008. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4188/is_20060326/ai_n16174855

Thielke, Thilo. “The Growing Continent of Christians: Part 2: Part Two: Will Pentecostals win out in Africa?, 4 April 2005, accessed 1 December 2008. http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,351292-2,00.html


[1]Phillip Jenkins & Joanne J. Myers. “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 17 April 2002, accessed 1 December 2008. http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/136.html

[2] Jonathan Hill, History of Christian Thought. Downer Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, 324-325.

[3] Shashank Bengali Knight Ridder Newspapers “Uganda is leading Africa’s boom in Christianity“. Deseret News (Salt Lake City). . FindArticles.com. 11 Dec. 2008. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4188/is_20060326/ai_n16174855

[4] Thilo Thielke. “The Growing Continent of Christians: Part 2: Part Two: Will Pentecostals win out in Africa?, 4 April 2005, accessed 1 December 2008. http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,351292-2,00.html

[5] Todd M Johnson. “Christianity in Global Context: Trends and Statistics”, 23 October 2008, accessed 1 December 2008. http://pewforum.org/events/051805/global-christianity.pdf.

[6] Stephen Noll. “Global South Christendom: Is it Inevitable?, 23 October 2008, accessed 1 December 2008. http://pewforum.org/events/051805/global-christianity.pdf.

[7] Shashank Bengali Knight Ridder Newspapers “Uganda is leading Africa’s boom in Christianity“. Deseret News (Salt Lake City). . FindArticles.com. 11 Dec. 2008. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4188/is_20060326/ai_n16174855

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