Last month 68,000 people packed the Stade du 20 mai in Kinshasha, the biggest stadium in Zaire, to celebrate the centenary of the arrival of Protestant missions. The crowd showed the infectious enthusiasm that has helped make the 6.5 million Protestants in Zaire the largest French-speaking Protestant community in the world.

Itofo Bokambanza Bokeleale, president of the Church of Christ in Zaire (CCZ), which sponsored the rally, applauded the early missionary effort. The record is one of the more remarkable growth stories in African church history. When the first missionary, Henry Craven, landed in Zaire in 1878, there were no Christians. He established a mission at Pala Bala, near the modern port city of Matadi and soon was joined by other British missionaries from his own Livingstone Inland Mission and from the Baptist Missionary Society.

The British missionaries, wanting to quickly establish stations across Africa and halt the southward expansion of Islam, penetrated the interior along the course of the Zaire (Congo) River. Two Jamaicans were sent to Zaire by the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society in 1884—the first American-sponsored missionaries.

Development of the church was constant, though slow and costly. In some outlying areas, buried missionaries outnumbered the living. Protestant work doubled during the two decades between the wars (1919–1939). The next big influx followed World War II and raised the missionary force to more than 1,000. The church grew accordingly in Zaire, until today the Protestant community includes one-fourth of the 25 million population.

Local congregations belong to formerly independent denominations that were merged by government decree to form the CCZ, the only recognized Protestant body. Denominational identity was maintained, though denominations are now called communities. The 11,220 parishes are served by about 2,500 ordained and an equal number of unordained ministers. The CCZ also operates 2,830 primary schools and 6,092 secondary schools, which have a total attendance of 1 million students. The other major institutional work of the CCZ is medical. Its sixty-three hospitals around the country form the hub for maternity clinics, dispensaries, leprosariums, sanitoriums, and health centers.

Shoddy Power Politics

Bokeleale heads this religious conglomerate. Dressed for the centennial celebration in a long, white robe capped by a cardinal-type cape, addressed as monseigneur, and wearing a large crucifix, he could have been a Roman Catholic prelate instead of a Protestant minister. Bokeleale’s ecclesiastical garb and title symbolize a growing controversy between the CCZ president and many of the fifty-three member communities. In 1975, Bokeleale suggested to the CCZ national synod that regional presidents be elected to the position of bishop and that each community follow suit for its own leaders.

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Bokeleale’s own community, the Disciples of Christ in Zaire (DCZ), took that step the following year. Replacing its congregational style of government with an episcopal one, the DCZ made its general secretary a bishop and conferred the title of honorary bishop on Bokeleale. Bishop Harms of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany performed the consecration ceremony.

Some leading Protestants, both inside and outside the CCZ administration, strongly objected to what they saw as an attempt by Bokeleale to change the fundamental government of the church. Four pastors published a 150-page document entitled, “Is Christ Still the Head of the Protestant Church in Zaire?” The four ministers described Bokeleale’s moves as “an attempt to convert the entire Protestant community of the CCZ to an episcopal church without consultation with or consent by its members.”

Opposing Bokeleale has its problems. One of the four pastors who wrote the 150-page document was the CCZ vice-president; he is no longer in Zaire and no longer an official of the CCZ. Another of the pastors, from the influential French-language International Parish of Kalina, was threatened by Bokeleale with dismissal from his church. The director of the Bible Society of Zaire openly criticized Bokeleale and lost his job.

The issue these men and others raised is neither new nor insignificant. It is, in their words, “unity in diversity,” or the right of autonomous CCZ communities to maintain their own essential character and autonomy without interference or pressure to conform to a contrary form of government set by the CCZ national leadership. Their concern differs little from that which motivated others in 1971 to protest on the basis of religious liberty the formation of the CCZ (see April 14, 1972, issue, page 4; November 24, 1972, issue, page 9). In both instances, people opposed bringing the autonomous communities under a strong, centralized authority.

Even the Disciples of Christ Community is having second thoughts. During their annual general assembly in July, members rescinded their action of 1976 regarding bishops and the episcopacy. They returned to the congregational concept of church government, with a general secretary as administrator. Despite its internal power struggle, the CCZ still provides for evangelism, development, education, and women’s ministries to its member communities.

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Political Shambles

Zaire is going through one of its most difficult periods since 1960. David Lamb, in the International Herald Tribune, summarizes the current state of the republic: “The economy President Mobutu nationalized is being denationalized. The authenticity campaign has been largely abandoned. The corruption that he promised to end continues unchecked, with Mobutu himself the biggest offender. The army that he pledged to reorganize remains only a mob with guns that prey on the public. The agricultural sector that he vowed to revise still is struggling along at a plodding pace.”

Part of the agricultural problem stems from an unusually severe drought in the rain forests of the Lower Zaire Province, the fertile area that feeds the Kinshasa population. Instead of the normal seventy inches of rainfall, last year the region had only nine inches. Some districts have not had rain for nineteen months.

The thousands of Angolan war refugees who have fled to drought-stricken Lower Zaire compound the problem. Thousands more are homeless and starving in Shaba Province following civil war there in two successive years. Nearly a million refugees are living in Zaire.

Such Christian relief agencies as World Vision International and Church World Service are funneling millions of dollars in relief aid to the war refugees and drought victims through local churches and mission stations within the distressed areas. Secular organizations, including the International Relief Commission, coordinate their efforts with the Protestant and Catholic churches. The Zaire Protestant Relief Agency of the CCZ acts as a clearinghouse for this aid.

The CCZ and its member communities had been central to education programs in Zaire since the beginning of missions and modern civilization in the country. When the government decided in 1975 to nationalize the educational structure, between 90 and 95 per cent of the schools were still administered by Catholics and Protestants.

Three disastrous years of public education followed. The entire system became morally and financially bankrupt. In some instances, teachers exacted sexual favors from female students in exchange for passing grades, and funds for salaries and administrative expenses disappeared en route to the schools. Finally, in 1978, the government admitted shortcomings in the schools and returned the administration back to the church—a massive task involving 3 million students, 80,000 teachers, and finances that since 1965 have averaged about 20 per cent of the total national budget (see January 7, 1977, issue, page 43).

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An unexpected result of the school nationalization was a spiritual awakening among the students. “After the abolition of the confessional youth movements and religion courses in schools, a remarkable spontaneous movement arose among some young people,” noted the CCZ centenary special, It’s a Miracle. “Having learned the habit of Bible reading with the aid of Scripture Union material, they themselves created in their respective parishes Bible study groups, which quickly attracted the attention of a good number of their fellows.”

The Scripture Union directors in Zaire had experienced problems in getting young people out to their summer camps. Some programs attracted only a dozen youths. But once religion was no longer a curricular activity, the camps began to fill. Leaders are now forced to limit registration in some camps, as attendance has climbed to above two hundred.

Some Scripture Union students formed a group, “Chain of Integrity,” during the period of nationalized education. The students, recognizing that Christians must combat corruption with honesty, met to encourage each other in resisting temptation. The movement has spread to adult Christians in business and professional occupations.

Spiritual awakening is not limited to the young. A new generation of evangelism-minded British Baptist missionaries is moving into areas along the Zaire River to revive once-active churches. A tent evangelist in western Zaire near Bomba followed relief trucks into refugee camps, and now over 1,000 Angolan converts are being discipled. Three years ago a congregation began in Kinshasa with about thirty adults; now more than 400 believers attend each Sunday, and they are building a church to accommodate 1,000.

The Centennial celebrants who jammed into Stade du 20 mai had reason to cheer. Neither power politics in the CCZ hierarchy or Zairian economic and political shambles stopped church growth. The church had a good first century, and the second promises to be even better.


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Terrorist-Shy Irish Church Rebuffs Wcc

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland suspended its membership within the World Council of Churches (WCC) last month. The reason: a protest against the controversial Program to Combat Racism of the WCC, particularly its grant last summer to the Patriotic Front of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia).

The action was taken during a special session of the General Assembly of the church and carried by a vote of 561 to 393. More than half of the presbyteries had requested the special meeting.

Suspension does not mean complete withdrawal of membership from the WCC. Instead, the Presbyterian Church of Ireland will cease its participation in the affairs of the WCC, except for certain Christian education and missions programs. (Of the 575 congregations, 475 are in Northern Ireland, where members make up about 20 per cent of the population.)

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has consistently opposed antiracism grants and has refused to contribute funds to the Program to Combat Racism. The church will continue to discuss the antiracism grants with the WCC. An Irish delegation planned to meet this month in London with WCC officials, a day after Salvation Army leaders were to discuss their self-imposed suspension for the same reason from the WCC.

Complete withdrawal by the Irish church from the WCC would require the vote of two successive general assemblies of the Irish Presbyterians, says A. J. Weir, clerk of the general assembly. The next regular meeting won’t take place until June.

At the recent special session of the general assembly, the church reaffirmed its stand against racism. It also recognized the political, economic, and ethical pluralism that exists within the WCC.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, which feels it has no small experience in dealing with terrorists, from the beginning has charged the WCC with making grants to “anti-racist” organizations without making provision for accountability on how the money is spent. The church fears that the WCC is identifying more with conflict and terrorism than with sufferers of injustice.

A statement made recently by the Inter-Church Relations Board of the Irish Church points out that “grants made by well-intentioned donors to paramilitary or guerrilla groups, or to their supporting organizations, do not end simply with humanitarian aid, even when so used, but strengthen generally the power of the particular group or individual administering them.…”

The statement continued, “It would be as wrong and offensive to entrust ecumenical church grants, however earmarked, to the organization of Ian Smith and his colleagues as it is to give to the Patriotic Front in their violent confrontation.”

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It is expected that the antiracism grants will be high on the agenda when the WCC Central Committee gathers next January in Jamaica.


Misery Relievers Also Love Company

Although their home constituencies differ, evangelical relief agencies aiding flood victims in North India or boat people in Southeast Asian waters often end up working with the same government officials and church groups for the same purposes.

Last month, representatives of ten relief and development agencies formed an umbrella organization that will provide a better communication among themselves and the groups they represent.

The initial members of the Association of Evangelical Relief and Development Organizations (AERDO) are all based in the United States and Canada.They are Compassion International, Compassion/Canada, Development Assistance Services, Food for the Hungry, Food for the Hungry/Canada, Institute for International Development. Inc., MAP International, World Concern, World Relief NAE, and World Vision International. However, the group is holding charter membership open for a year and is soliciting the membership of sister organizations overseas. AERDO offices will be established in Seattle, Washington.

AERDO will not be involved in relief funding. Its thrust instead will be exchange of information, setting of standards, and coordinating programs. It aims to be to relief and development mission agencies what the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association (EFMA) and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (IFMA) are to evangelism and church-planting mission agencies. AERDO officials also seek a liason role between their organization and the EFMA and IFMA on the one hand, and national church groups on the other.

In addition, says AERDO president Arthur Beals of World Concern, “We wish to provide information about development that will enable Christians to understand its relationship to the other tasks we have in implementing the Great Commission.”

No sooner was AERDO formed than it spawned another group: the Consortium of Evangelical Relief and Development Organizations (CERDO), composed of several AERDO members. CERDO is designed for joint projects, for technical support, and as a conduit for governmental relief and development funds not available to individual church agencies. Its office will be in Washington, D.C. (CERDO has no creedal stipulations of its own, but limits participation to members of AERDO, who must subscribe to the National Association of Evangelicals statement of faith.)

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President John Robinson of MAP International says CERDO will seek funding where a consortium makes better sense than for several smaller agencies to work alone—reducing red tape and funneling government funds to projects proposed and approved by its member agencies. He cautions that consortium members must be agencies that are viable apart from the partial government funding.

Spain Cuts Its Ties To Church—Almost

In a popular referendum early this month, voters in Spain were expected to ratify a new constitution that had been overwhelmingly approved a month earlier by the Spanish Parliament. Since all of the leading parties favored the new constitution, its approval was considered nearly certain.

Under the new parliamentary monarchy Spain would no longer have an official religion—ending 500 years of church-and-state union, at least in theory.

The new constitution would open the door to acceptance of a new Law of Religious Liberty, which has already been worked out by representatives of the various religious groups and the Spanish government. Included in the law is an interpretation of Article 16 of the constitution, which concerns religious freedom.

Spanish Protestants have already expressed disagreement with the new constitution, particularly to sections where the politics of consensus led to a backtracking from the pointed declaration in an early draft that the Spanish state was not “confessional.” Article 16 states that there is to be no official religion. But a sentence that was inserted after discreet lobbying by the bishops of the eighty-member Episcopal Conference (Roman Catholic), raises serious doubts. The sentence says, “The public authorities will keep in mind the religious beliefs of the Spanish society and will maintain … cooperation with the Catholic Church and the other confessions.” Protestants fear that mention of the Catholic church by name in reality gives it special considerations denied the others.

Among the notable changes, the new Constitution would end discrimination in burial places and end restrictions in the establishment of new churches. Also, the Constitution would establish legal rights in marriages and in the religious education of children, and the freedom to change one’s religious beliefs. The 1953 Concordat between the Vatican and the Franco regime that proclaimed Catholicism the state religion is being revised to bring it into line with the new Constitution.

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A major problem yet to be resolved is separation of church and state finances. The Roman Catholic Church has received some $85 million annually from the Spanish government to pay its clergy and maintain its extensive holdings. The Spanish government, on the other hand, has relied heavily on church schools and teachers for the education of children.

A new agreement, still being drafted, is likely to prevail. It places a “religious” tax upon citizens, which is to be paid along with the income tax. Each person would be able to designate the religious group he wants to receive his tax, with the Spanish government keeping the tax of those who fail to express a preference. Protestant churches oppose taxation, maintaining that local congregations are responsible for financing their own activities.

In whatever manner the deliberately vague passages of the Constitution are worked out, Spain has decisively shed its image as the most Catholic country in Western Europe. It was already considerably less Catholic than its reputation. Perhaps now that will be official.


World Scene

Pope John Paul II received rebel Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in private audience last month. The French prelate, who is under church suspension because he rejects the reforms of Vatican II and insists that mass be said only in Latin, requested the meeting. Vatican sources believe Lefebvre may be seeking reconciliation.

The Presbyterian Church of South Africa is unhappy about World Council of Churches support for the Rhodesian Patriotic Front. But instead of terminating membership in the WCC, the denominational assembly decided to divert its membership fees to relief efforts directed toward “WCC victims” in the Rhodesian conflict.

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