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Most of the church people that read this column are familiar with the 20th century Western Christian movements and Western Christian leaders. Others may have a denominational knowledge of the missionaries that have gone in the 19th century from the Western World to the continents of Africa, Asia, Central and Latin America. Thus, Baptists are familiar with Baptists missionaries, Presbyterians with Presbyterian missionaries and Catholics with Catholic missionaries.
However, as most of the Christian analysts tell us, 21st century Christianity will no longer be a Western Christianity, but a Christianity of the Southern Hemisphere. Historians have started to study and write more extensively on what happened on other continents during the 20th century. Many people are familiar with Martin Luther, the great reformer of the 16th century who started the Reformation and the Lutheran denomination which bears his name, but fewer people known the Kimbanguist Church and its founder, Simon Kimbangu. Many people are familiar with the Wesleyan movement of which the Methodist Church is one denomination, but very few people know of William Harris who is the founder of the Harrist Church in Africa.
While in this article we will briefly expand on Kimbangu, it is important to observe that both men came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in missionary churches. They were considered local or national leaders by the missionaries, but after a while, they felt that continuing to work with missionaries was restrictive on what God was calling them to do. Instead of looking West, they started to look at the Scriptures in light of their own cultures.
Simon Kimbangu (1887-1951) was born in what was known as the Belgian Congo and baptized in a Baptist Church in 1915. He was a church teacher until 1921 when he felt the call to preach. In fact, it is better to say that in 1921, he accepted the call of God which he had refused for six years. Once he stared his preaching ministry, God accompanied his preaching with miraculous signs and healings.
As he started his preaching, he modeled it on the New Testament. He chose 12 apostles that he trained and sent to preach the Gospel. He had three moral rules for his followers: the abolition of all African traditional religious symbols, the eradication of erotic dancing and the destruction of dance drums and the end of polygamy. He also opposed witchcraft and sorcery. What was fascinating about Kimbangu is that his followers were willing to forsake all these things.
For many years Kimbangu was simply preaching the gospel. However, one cannot preach the gospel without also attacking the injustices that have been placed on the people by those who are in the government. To his surprise many of the missionaries were not willing to side with him and as a result, the Belgian government charged him with sedition and sentenced him to death. The Belgian king commuted his sentence to 30 years in jail where he died in 1951.
Despite Kimbangu's imprisonment, the movement continued to grow and today the number of members in the Kimbanguist Church is over 17,000,000 on the continent of Africa. The name of the church has been changed to The Church of Christ on Earth and continues to be one of the fastest growing independent churches on the continent of Africa combining a fresh reading of the Scriptures in the African context.
Christianity is a global movement, as Christ concluded in Matthew 28:16-20 - "Go and make disciples of all nations..." While in some parts of the world the church is struggling, even decreasing in numbers; in other parts, with names and congregations less known to us, it triumphs.