Themes in African Church History

The Protestant missionary movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries have for some time come under severe criticism both by many Western scholars and an in­creasing number of their African peers. Protestant missionaries are charged with displacing indigenous African cultures and supporting the political and economic colonisation on the African continent. Writing from a Namibian perspective, Anthony Brendell and Thorsten Prill attempt to establish a more balanced view. They demonstrate that the overall picture painted by the critics is often harsh. Contrary to their claims, the majority of missionaries did not come to Africa with an imperialist, racist or sexist agenda. Most missionaries were driven by compassion for people who needed to hear the Christian Gospel. Of course, that does not mean that they were faultless. Their zeal for the mission of the church did not prevent them from making serious mistakes. One of these mistakes was the practice of paternalism, as the example of the Rhenish Missionary Society shows. While most Rhenish missionaries, who worked in Namibia in the forties and fifties of the 20th century, declared that their goal was the transformation of the missionary led Rhenish Mission Church into a unified independent Namibian church, a strong paternalistic attitude among them under­mined this endeavour. For the benefit of their African fellow Christians, so they believed, Rhenish missionaries ignored their desire for more autonomy. Being convinced that they knew best what was good for them, the missionaries passed over the wishes of their Namibian church members. The consequences were seri­ous. Missionary paternalism not only prompted the Nama Secession in 1946 and the Herero Secession in 1955 but also contributed to the schism in the Rhenish Baster Congregation in Rehoboth and the subsequent formation of the Rhenish Church in Namibia in 1962. Anthony Brendell is the minister of the Philadelphia Interdenominational Congre­gation in Oranjemund, a united congregation of three Namibian Lutheran and Reformed church bodies. Dr Thorsten Prill is a minister of the Rhenish Church in Namibia. He has been seconded by his church to serve as Vice-Principal at Edinburgh Bible College in Scotland.