The church has gone through many changes, alterations and departures over the two millennia of its existence. It has transformed itself from a small group of believers in the area surrounding Judea, into a worldwide force of religious and faithful people who stand on Christ alone for their salvation. Many ‘denominations,’ societies, groups, and organizations have been founded upon their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
However, have we ever actually studied the scripture in order to determine what exactly the church is? Have we examined the source, essence, foundation, structure and purpose of this mysterious entity we call the church? Do we have historical evidence to back up its claims? Has this evidence been presented in its true light, or has it been altered?
There are some additional questions that also need to be asked. These questions stem from a place of cultural relevance and identity. Questions pertaining to the people, lands and evolution of the people of God identified in the scriptures. Such questions must also be asked in order for an entire populous of people who have been scattered into the four corners of the earth to gain the strength, fortitude and knowledge considered necessary to justly take their place in both history and the world.
Although the above questions are paramount for a people who have been oppressed, subjugated and disenfranchised throughout time and history, we must focus on the subject of this particular article. The very nucleus of the purpose of this discourse is to answer the inquiry, “What Is the African Episcopal Church?”
In order to begin, we must first state what the African Episcopal Church is not. We must identify both in history and ethnically with the identifying characteristics of the people it stems from. Therefore, we must state quite boldly that the African Episcopal Church is not, nor shall it ever be a manifestation of Anglo-Saxon, colonial ideology. While this church may accept the doctrine and polity of such, we stand on the historical truth of its origins.
Now that we have determined what this church is not, let us delve into exploration and determination of what it is. Let us first begin with the understanding that the name of the church identifies (culturally) the very people it is called to serve. That name, which encompasses not only an entire continent, but also a people who have ventured into other nations throughout the world.
Can we imagine, first and foremost that the indigenous people of Akebulan, which we know today as ‘Africa,’ have been taken into every nation (especially that of Eurocentric identity), and have suffered, been ridiculed, hated, mistreated, misunderstood, oppressed by an entire world of people whose very existence, wealth and culture has been in one way, shape, or form stolen from the ancestors of the very same indigenous people thereof? Therefore, the African Episcopal Church is a church for all people of Africentric descent, despite current global location.
As we have previously stated, the church must identify with the people it serves. In order to identify properly the church must understand the culture it seeks to minister to. It is prerequisite for both church and people to eradicate any and all things contrary to scripture. Once this is accomplished, both may coexist harmoniously in order to make Christ known to the world.
One of the most devastating factors concerning cultural identity is to acknowledge language and verbiage. In fact, this is the very device used in an effort to translate scripture into various languages. If one cannot hear the Gospel in their own language, the very subject of the Gospel becomes foreign to them – requiring a false adherence to a culture that is in opposition to the culture seeking to be served.
Terms that have been translated from Greek or Hebrew, or Latin have been used to subdue an entire populous of people who would otherwise believe…if what was being presented was in their own language and spoke clearly to their cultural identity. In fact, if we were to understand the scripture in its original language without the translations, which in and of themselves have created misunderstanding, schism and has also been utilized to instill fear; we would find that greater acceptance and a diverse cultural church could be manifest.
In Article XXIV of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, it states:
“XXIV. Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the people understandeth.
It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people.”
While this article deals specifically with English people being forced to pray and administer the sacraments in Latin, it most definitely is applicable in today’s world as well. We must identify the people with and by language. Additionally, not all people who speak a form or dialect of English truly know or understand the English language. Therefore, we must understand that “tongue” or “language,” must first and foremost be in the language of the people.
The Liturgy and Sacraments of the church must be administered within the confines of the culture. Culture dictates the language. This is one of the many reasons why the people of African descent have departed from the liturgical and sacramental practices of the universal church.
In closing, the African Episcopal Church is culturally relevant. It identifies with the various cultures and sub-cultures which our people have been introduced to, as well as have been raised in. The African Episcopal Church, therefore, is dedicated to publishing the Gospel wherever our people are throughout the world.
Abp. D. E. Chase
Primate – USA