The Rise of Christianity in Ghana

The presence of Christian missionaries on the coast of Ghana has been dated to the arrival of the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. It was the Basel/Presbyterian and Wesleyan/Methodist missionaries, however, who, in the nineteenth century, laid the foundation for the Christian church in Ghana.

Beginning their conversions in the coastal area and among the Akwapim, these missionaries established schools as "nurseries of the church" in which an educated African class was trained.

Almost all major secondary schools today, especially exclusively boys and girls schools, are mission- or church-related institutions.

Although churches continue to influence the development of education in the country, church schools have been opened to all since the state assumed financial responsibility for formal instruction under the Education Act of 1960.

Various Christian denominations are well represented in Ghana.

> > The Volta Region has a high concentration of Evangelical Presbyterians. Many Akwapim are Presbyterians, and

> > the Methodist denomination is strongly represented among the Fante.

> > The Roman Catholic Church is fairly well represented in Central Region and Ashanti Region.

> > Although no official figures exist to reflect regional distribution of the various denominations, it is generally agreed that the southern part of the nation is more Christian, while the north is more Islamic.

The unifying organization of Christians in the country is the Ghana Christian Council, founded in 1929. Representing the Methodist, Anglican, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Evangelical Presbyterian, African Methodist Episcopal Zionist, Christian Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, F'Eden, and Baptist churches, and the Society of Friends, the council serves as the link with the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies. The National Catholic Secretariat, established in 1960, also coordinates the different in-country dioceses.

These Christian organizations, concerned primarily with the spiritual affairs of their congregations, have occasionally acted in circumstances described by the government as political. Such was the case in 1991 when both the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Ghana Christian Council called on the military government of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) to return the country to constitutional rule. The Roman Catholic newspaper, The Standar, was often critical of government policies.

In the north, Islam predominates. Islam is based on what Muslims believe are the divine revelations received in seventhcentury Arabia by the Prophet Muhammad. His life is recounted as the early history of the religion, beginning with his travels from the Arabian town of Mecca about 610. His condemnation of the polytheistic practices of the people of Mecca caused him to become an outcast.

In 622 Muhammad was invited to the town of Yathrib, which became known as Medina (the city) through its association with him. The move, or hijra, known in the West as the hegira, marks the beginning of the Islamic Era and the Islamic calendar, as well as the inauguration of Islam as a powerful force in history. In Medina, Muhammad continued his preaching, ultimately defeated his detractors in battle, and consolidated his influence as both temporal and spiritual leader of most Arabs before his death in 632.

After Muhammad's death, his followers compiled those of his words that were regarded as coming directly from God into the Qura, the holy scripture of Islam. Other sayings and teachings as well as precedents of his behavior as recalled by those who knew him became the hadith ("sayings"). From these sources, the faithful constructed the Prophet's customary practice, or sunna, which they endeavor to emulate. The Quran, hadith, and sunna form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of the faithful in most Muslim countries.

The God preached by Muhammad was previously known to his countrymen. Rather than introducing a new deity, Muhammad denied the existence of the pantheon of gods and spirits worshipped before his prophethood and declared the omnipotence of God, the unique creator. Muhammad is the "Seal of the Prophets," the last of the prophetic line. His revelations are said to complete for all time the series of revelations that were given earlier to Jews and Christians. Islam reveres as sacred only the message, not the Prophet. It accepts the concepts of guardian angels, the Day of Judgment, resurrection, and the eternal life of the soul.

The central requirement of Islam is submission to the will of God (Allah), and, accordingly, a Muslim is a person who has submitted his will to God. The most important demonstration of faith is the shahad (profession of faith), which states that "There is no God but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his prophet." Sala (daily prayer), zaka (almsgiving), saw (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) are also required of all Muslims.

The spread of Islam into West Africa, beginning with ancient Ghana in the ninth century, was mainly the result of the commercial activities of North African Muslims. The empires of both Mali and Songhai that followed ancient Ghana in the Western Sudan adopted the religion. Islam made its entry into the northern territories of modern Ghana around the fifteenth century. Mande or Wangara traders and clerics carried the religion into the area. The northeastern sector of the country was also influenced by Muslims who escaped the Hausa jihads of northern Nigeria in the early nineteenth century.

Most Ghanaian Muslims are Sunni, following the Maliki version of Islamic law. Sufism, involving the organization of mystical brotherhoods (tariq) for the purification and spread of Islam, is not widespread in Ghana. The Tijaniyah and the Qadiriyah brotherhoods, however, are represented. The Ahmadiyah, a Shia sect originating in nineteenth-century India, is the only non-Sunni order in the country.

Despite the spread of Islamism (popularly known as Islamic fundamentalism) in the Middle East, North Africa, and even in Nigeria since the mid-1970s, Ghanaian Muslims and Christians have had excellent relations. Guided by the authority of the Muslim Representative Council, religious, social, and economic matters affecting Muslims have often been redressed through negotiations.

The Muslim Council has also been responsible for arranging pilgrimages to Mecca for believers who can afford the journey.

In spite of these achievements, the council has not succeeded in taking initiatives for the upgrading of Islamic schools beyond the provision of basic Quranic instruction. This may explain the economic and technological gap between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Ghanaian Ahmadiyah Movement, which has established a number of vocational training centers, hospitals, and some secondary schools, is an except

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Today, Christianity has a larger percentage of believers (43%) than any other religion in Ghana, but it is still not a majority (Neill, et al. 226). This percentage encompasses a great diversity of belief and practice.

While African theology gives freedom to creative expression in worship, the oral theology of African tradition still needs more attention (Neill, et al. 11). The task at hand is preserving this facet of theology for posterity.

The most developed aspect of this theology is the Christological aspect of this theology, reflected in the Christ-centeredness of all tenets of the doctrinal beliefs and practice. This Christology is expressed in Ghana’s Christianity through the oral culture, symbolism, and ritualism that focuses on the character of Christ and His redemptive work (Keeley 144).

A nation of 7.5 million people, Ghana can no longer go unnoticed. The desire of the believers for a Christian Ghana and determination over history to express their faith within the bounds of their culture has produced drastic growth in churches and believers.

Because the culture is definitive of the people of Ghana’s identity and influences every facet of life, Christianity must find its expression through cultural channels. Through their great desire to integrate faith and culture, the Christians of Ghana retain the teachings of traditional Christianity but have seasoned this with their own cultural values and practices, producing a uniquely Ghanan Christianity.

Why does this nation continue to live in the shadows of a continent wrought with poverty and disease? Why should we continue to ignore the vast resources and potential of a people as diverse, creative, and determined as the people of Ghana? It is time the attention of Christians worldwide turn to this people and offer support for their internal mission effort.