A White Man’s Religion?

Was Christianity Invented by & for White Europeans?

In observance of Black History Month (February), I decided to make my small contribution to the study of the subject in relation to the history of Christianity.[1] Although I have been told that my white skin somehow disqualifies me from weighing in on this subject, I strongly disagree. However, for those who think otherwise, but who are still interested in looking further into this subject, you might check out some of the links provided in the footnotes below, some of which will take you to articles & videos that have been put together by Christian scholars who have more melanin in their skin than I have in mine, if that helps to add any credibility to the answer they would give to the main question that is under consideration in this article.

Although I have managed to live more than half a century, prior to being introduced to the ministry of “street-preaching” (“open-air” preaching) in April of 2018, I had never heard the assertion that Christianity was a “white man’s religion.” But since joining in efforts to preach the message of Jesus Christ on the streets of downtown St. Louis, Missouri, I have repeatedly heard Black people making such assertions.[2] Very commonly, while me & my other white-skinned street-preaching partners are out encouraging people to repent & follow Jesus, at least one of the Black people we talk to will turn the subject of the conversation to the issue of skin color or ethnicity and then relate it to religion.

We have encountered Black people who profess to be “Hebrew Israelites,”[3] and those who profess to hold to a type of religious syncretism, in which they blend some things borrowed from Christianity with elements of non-Christian religions indigenous to Africa.[4] We have also met some Black people who profess to be adherents of Kemeticism (i.e. following non-Christian Egyptian religion).[5] Some of these individuals have told us very plainly that the reason they reject Christianity is because they believe it is a “white man’s religion” that was invented by white Europeans for the purpose of controlling subjugated people groups.[6] Therefore, they purposely reject Christianity in favor of “finding their own way” (which often means inventing their own religion), or else they will seek to return to the gods of their ancestors.[7] I have even heard of Black people turning away from Christianity because they view it as being the “religion of their oppressors” and turning to Islam because they believe that Islam is somehow more suitable for Black people than Christianity.[8]

What the Bible Reveals Concerning the Origin of Christianity

If we considered the Bible to be simply a history book, it would still teach us that Christianity was brought about by the Eternal God, the Creator of the Universe, who (as discernable in the Old & New Testament) mysteriously exists in three divine Persons. One of these Persons (the Son of God) left the throne room of heaven, took on flesh by entering the womb of a virgin, was born as a Jew in Bethlehem of Judea and was named Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah/Christ according to the Bible, also wearing the title of “the Son of Man” (Dan 7:13-14). This Jesus, the Christ & divine Word of God (Jn 1:1), was put to death on a wooden cross in Jerusalem on a Friday and was then raised to life the following Sunday morning. Therefore, God & His Son Jesus were the originators of Christianity. And regardless of the amount of melanin that Jesus & his original disciples had in their skin, they were ethnic Jews from Palestine—they were not European. Concerning the geographical question, the Christian proclamation about the Lordship of Jesus and his death & resurrection was first preached in Jerusalem (Acts 2), which is obviously in the Middle East, rather than in Europe.

People from Africa Encountered Christianity in Palestine Before Evangelists Brought it to Europe

Just as some Europeans (whether Greeks or Romans) encountered early Christianity due to having traveled to Palestine, so did some people from the continent of Africa, who may have been proselytes to Judaism. The historical documents of early Christianity report, in the book of Acts, that:

Acts 2:4-11: “…they [i.e. the Apostles] were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes11 Cretans & Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” [Note: Egypt, Libya & Cyrene are in Africa!]

Therefore, according to the chronology of the book of Acts, not only did people from Africa encounter Christianity before it was first carried to what is now European soil (seen in Acts 16 when Paul travels to Macedonia, or Greece), it is very possible that the teachings of Christianity reached Africa itself before these precepts were brought to Europe.

The Ethiopian Eunuch[9]

In Acts 8 (which is chronologically prior to Acts 16), we read of the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch, and of course, “Ethiopia” refers to a region located somewhere in Africa. The reason this man from Ethiopia is not traditionally considered to be the first Gentile convert to Christianity may be because he was either 1) an ethnic Jew who had been residing in Ethiopia, or 2) a proselyte to Judaism, and so he was Jewish according to his religion, but was an African Gentile according to his ethnicity.[10] Whichever was the case (I would pick option #2), after he became a follower of Jesus, this eunuch may have returned to Ethiopia and shared his faith with his fellow Ethiopians. In fact, according to church tradition (Irenaeus, Eusebius, Jerome), this eunuch became a missionary to the Ethiopians, and he may have carried the gospel of Jesus into Africa BEFORE it was taken into Europe (to Greece) by the apostle Paul as is seen in Acts 16 when Lydia is baptized.

Other Africans Encountering Early Christianity[11]

Other people mentioned in the New Testament who appear to have been of an African ethnicity and who seem to have encountered early Christianity before it had been carried to Europe include: Simon of Cyrene (Matt 27:32; Mark 15:21; Lk 23:26) & Lucius of Cyrene (Acts 13:1), and Simeon (Acts 13:1-2), whose surname was “Niger”(Acts 13:1-2).

The historical record clearly and undeniably shows that Christianity had penetrated the continent of Africa centuries before the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade (i.e. the Euro-American slave trade).[12] This is a known fact. Not only was there a large & learned Christian community in Alexandria, Egypt (which claimed to be the oldest patriarchate, founded either by Mark or Barnabas), but there was also a famous Christian school located there, too.[13] There was also a strong Christian presence in North Africa, the center of which was the city of Carthage, where the notorious Donatist schism/controversy broke out.[14] Some of the intellectual leaders in the early church who seem to have been of an African ethnicity and who we know of through church history (i.e. historical writings outside of the Bible) include Tertullian of Carthage (c. 160-230); Cyprian of Carthage (fl. 248-258); Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-255); Anthony the Great/Antony of Egypt (c. 252-356); Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 295-373); Augustine of Hippo (354-430), etc.

We also know from history that both Nubia/ancient Sudan and Ethiopia were two African kingdoms that were heavily influenced by Christianity prior to the existence of the transatlantic slave trade.[15] At least by the end of the 1st century A.D., evangelists—whether they traveled from Egypt or elsewhere—had brought Christianity into the area of Nubia (northern Sudan).[16] As time progressed into the Middle Ages, much of this ancient African Christianity became heavily suppressed or annihilated by the militant Islamic conquest (which began in the 7th century, c. 630 A.D.). In spite of this, the historical records show that Christians did continue to exist and practice their faith in certain areas on the continent of Africa, although Ethiopia was the only major kingdom in Africa that survived the Islamic expansion/conquest so as to continue existing as a “Christian nation.”[17]

African Christianity in the Middle Ages

There is solid, documented evidence that Christianity had even spread into West Africa and was still surviving there more than a century prior to the arrival of Europeans in that region to facilitate the transatlantic slave trade.[18] The source of this documented evidence is a conversation that is recorded in a Muslim history book written by Muslims in the late middle ages.[19] The conversation was recorded by a Muslim historian named Ibn al-Dawadari, who documented the words of a certain Muslim king named Mansa Musa (he was a very wealthy king—the “king of the Takur/Takrur”[20]). King Mansa Musa ruled an area of West Africa (Mali), but while visiting Egypt in 1324 and having a conversation with a government official (named “Fakhr Al-Din”), Mansa Musa plainly spoke of a community of Christians who were living in his region of Mali (West Africa). King Mansa Musa expressly mentioned the “Christians of the Takrur” and he spoke of them in considerable detail (in connection with their possession of gold), the details of which, for the sake of brevity, I will not go into here.

All of the Black/African church history that I have reported thus far is solid evidence that Christianity was in Africa before Europeans began their explorations of the continent while trying to compete with the Muslims for dominance in African trade (including the slave trade). This is an indisputable fact, and yet it is being called into question by many people in the “Black community.” But Christianity, by God’s design, has always been for all nations (Matt 28:19), regardless of ethnicity. When the apostle Peter first fully realized that Gentiles were to be admitted into the church, he said…

“In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation [Gk. ethnos] whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35).

And so how can Christianity be a “white man’s religion” if it was not only originally designed by God for all ethnic groups, but it was also found in various places on the continent of Africa (even in West Africa) before Europeans began their explorations of it? And of course, after that time, a form of Christianity continued to be spread in Africa.

Once European missionaries began traveling to the area of Africa known as “the Congo,” in Central Africa, it resulted in King Nzinga (a Nkuwu of the Congo) voluntarily submitting to Christian baptism, in 1491, at the hands of Franciscan priests. However, after being baptized, this African king did not go on to place a heavy Christian emphasis upon either his leadership or his kingdom’s identity. His rule was short-lived, but his son Afonso, who ruled as king from 1506 to 1543, did affirm Christianity as being central to the Congo kingdom. This led to the conversion of the elites of the Congo kingdom, who unfortunately, also remained strongly influenced by the indigenous non-Christian Congolese religion, and therefore practiced religious syncretism.[21] A form of Christianity then spread from the Congolese elites to the common villagers. But again, neither with the elites of the Congo kingdom, nor with the commoners did their conversions to Christianity involve a radical change of their religious worldview. Their baptism did not lead to the end of their non-Christian indigenous religious beliefs; they just mixed these beliefs in with their Catholicism/Christianity. Many of these Congolese Catholic Christians ended up being enslaved after being sold off by their own noble elites to Europeans and then transported to Hispaniola (St Domingue/Haiti) in particular (esp. in the 1700s), and to the Americas (the New World) in general.

Let us seek the Truth, not our own ideas & preferences

It is my hope & prayer that “people of color” would seriously consider the truth claims of Christianity concerning God & His Son Jesus Christ, considering these claims on their own merits (without prejudice) before rejecting the challenge of following Jesus as the way of eternal salvation. I pray that people would overcome any racial disdain or animosity they may have in their hearts toward “the white man” so that they not allow hatred, anger & bitterness to blind them from walking in the way of Jesus, which is the only path that will lead to an eternity of peace with God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). I pray that they would focus on eternal truth rather than on the melanin content of a person’s skin.

Christianity did not originate with people of European ancestry, nor has it ever been exclusively a religion of “white folk.” According to all the statistics I have read, the current trend regarding the growth of Christianity is that it is becoming progressively less & less “European” with each passing day (i.e., Christianity is on the decline among white folk and is on the increase among other ethnic groups). When the World Missionary Conference was held in Edinburg in 1910, it was approximately the beginning of the end of the time when ‘worldwide Christianity’ could, in any meaningful sense, be equated with European or North American Christianity (the church began to ‘go south’ geographically speaking).[22] Bible translation work and the spread of the Pentecostal-charismatic movement seem to have played a decisive role in this shift.

In John 18:37-38, when Pilate asked Jesus, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered him by saying, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate then responded to Jesus by saying, “What is truth?”

It seems that most people these days hold the same attitude as Pilate. People believe that there is no such thing as absolute truth, or else they doubt that we could ever know it even if it does exist, and so they just do whatever they like or whatever seems right in their own eyes. Relativism is widespread—people believe that two contradictory/conflicting ideas can both be true, or that truth is whatever you believe it to be. But such relativistic ideas are absurd & illogical, and even those who say there is no absolute truth make daily decisions based on what they believe to be true or false. Besides, if there are no absolutes, then there is no right & wrong (I can kill you, steal from you, lie to you, and you cannot say it is wrong).

Although it may be difficult for some people to accept (due to their aversion to authority), God is not only the Creator, He also determines what is true, or what is right & wrong. He is the boss and He makes the rules! Therefore, we need to seek Him and find out what He requires of us—finding out what pleases Him and what displeases Him—then act accordingly. God has given us free will, but there are consequences to the choices we make. God will hold us accountable for what we do with His truth!

Some of the things the Bible teaches concerning truth include the following:

  • God is a God of truth (Deut 32:4)
  • Jesus is the truth, is full of truth, and spoke the truth (Jn 14:6; 1:14; 8:45)
  • The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and guided the apostles into all the truth (Jn 14:17; 16:13)
  • The Word of God is truth (Jn 17:17)
  • The judgments of God are according to truth (Ps 96:13; Rom 2:2)
  • Christians should walk in the truth as revealed by Jesus, including the standard of morality that He taught (Eph 4:17-32; 5:1-17)
  • Christians should patiently teach others the truth (2 Tim 2:23-26)
  • Many will turn their ears away from the truth (2 Tim 4:1-4)

Will you be one of the many who will turn their ears away from the truth so that you can do it “your way”? If so, there will be consequences! The notion that “Christianity is a white man’s religion” is an ignorant racist falsehood that Satan is using to stumble people and keep them out of the kingdom of God. Satan is the father of lies (Jn 8:44). Please, do not be deceived by this particular one so that it prevents you from following the only path that leads to eternal life. Now that Jesus has come, unless a person repents, turns from sin and begins to follow Jesus (and continues to do so until the day they die or until Jesus returns), then they will be lost forever. This is simply what the Bible teaches (Lk 13:3, Matt 5:30; 10:22; Rev 2:10). Non-Christians, fruitless/barren Christians and Christians who live in sin & rebellion to Jesus’ teachings will all be rejected, and will be cast together into the Lake of Fire (Rev 21:8; Lk 12:45-46; 13:24-27; 19:11-27; Jn 15:1-10, etc.). Do not let it happen to you.

When we are standing before God on Judgment Day, simply because a person’s ancestors may have been enslaved or oppressed, this will not excuse them for having rejected Jesus and/or for being found to be living in sin, rebellion & hate. The apostle Paul taught, in the entire sixth chapter of Romans, that the way humans (all of whom God created “from one blood”[23]) would find eternal life is to cease from being slaves of sin and to consecrate ourselves as being slaves of God (being slaves of righteousness for holiness), “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23). Are you in Christ (Rom 6:3-4; Gal 3:26-27)? Are you one of His disciples? Jesus Himself said…

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:31-36).

Find true freedom & eternal life by becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God! Regardless of what His skin color was or what your skin color is, following Jesus—following in His footsteps down the path of holiness—is the only way to spending eternity in heaven with God the Father!

Reference notes to consider:

[1] February was chosen as the month to celebrate Black history because it is the birth month both of President Abraham Lincoln and the orator Frederick Douglass. See more at: https://www.britannica.com/story/why-is-black-history-month-celebrated-in-february

[2] Consider listening to this interview from a fairly well-known Black man who heard this same assertion many times: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CCVbKle5PE&t=424s

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Hebrew_Israelites

[4] This syncretism with Catholicism is seen in religions such as Santeria, which derives its cosmology & practices mainly from the Yoruba people of West Africa who were brought to Cuba; Shango, in Trinidad; Voodoo, which is W. African (Fon/Dahomey/Yoruba/Kongolese) at its core, but includes Taino, Catholic, Masonic, and other elements and which formed in Haiti; and Palo Monte/Regla Congo, which is derived from Bantú people of the sub-Sahara (lower Congo) who were brought to Cuba; Abakuá, derived from the Ejagham & Efik people of Nigeria who were brought to Cuba. Such syncretism of Protestantism is evident in the religions of Afro-Jamaican Revivalism (masked Myalism/Okomfo in the forms of Pocomania/Pokumina and Revival Zion, which have more Christian masking) and Kumina (which is more openly African-tribal). Other examples of this syncretism could include the African Zionism movement (in southern Africa), Convince and Rastafari.

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kemetism

[6] For a good & short article on Christianity in Egypt/Kemet, see: https://jude3project.org/blog/2016/8/20/early-african-christianity-egypt

[7] Even if a person’s ancestors were not adherents of Christianity, this does not mean that those ancestors were following a path that would lead them to spending eternity in heaven with the Creator of the Universe.

[8] However, history reveals that Muslims were very active in the holding and trafficking of Black slaves (see a short video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7ITNDPnrLA). In fact, the very man Muslims point to as being their prophet (Muhammad, c. 570– 632) and who was the founder of Islam also did himself buy, sell and trade Black African slaves—and he was far from being a black man (Muslim sources even describe him as being white). Therefore, the choice between Christianity and Islam should be made based on which religion is more verifiably true or on how well each religion’s claims of truth stand up to scrutiny, rather than basing this eternally important decision upon something as superficial as skin color.

[9] Consider this study of the Ethiopian Eunuch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtUKlodzizc&t=521s

[10] During the time of Moses (Deut 23:1), eunuchs were excluded from tabernacle worship services, but the removal of this ban is announced in Isaiah 56:3ff and Jeremiah 38:7.

[11] Dr. Vince Bantu says ancient Africa was full of Christianity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjnzd5QYpeE

[12] The Portuguese were the first Europeans to compete with Muslims for dominance in African trade by way of increased exploration. The Portuguese saw their efforts as both a fight for Christianity and a quest for wealth. From as early as 1443, they were actively involved in the slave trade, which had previously been monopolized by the Muslims.

[13] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catechetical_School_of_Alexandria

[14] See https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Donatist and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donatism

[15] For a good & short article on Christianity in Nubia, see https://jude3project.org/blog/2016/earlychristianitynubia

[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_Sudan

[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_Ethiopia

[18] A good video on this can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Y6wi4JOAJE&t=146s

[19] J.F.P. Hopkins and N. Levtzion, eds., trans. J.F.P. Hopkins, Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981; Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2000 edition), 249-251.

[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takrur

[21] The Portuguese and Italian missionaries who were active in the Congo beginning in the 15th century (1400s) were not all that picky about the purity of the Catholicism they were trying to spread. In an effort to remove obstacles that might make it harder for the Congolese to accept Catholicism, missionaries adopted Congolese religious and ritual language in order to name and categorize Christian concepts, characters and rituals, and they were tolerant of religious syncretism. Therefore, many Congolese embraced Catholicism without changing many of their core Congolese religious values, and Catholic priests were accepting of this practice. (The French Catholics also did a lot of missionary work in the Congo region in the 1700s.)

[22] Some reports indicate there are now more professing Christians in Africa than anywhere else in the world, even more than in Latin America (which is probably where the 2nd largest concentration of professing Christians can be found; some say it has the most. Asia has the 3rd most). The work of Bible translation has played an enormous role in this development and expansion of the Christian faith.

[23] Acts 17:26

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