The Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) and Protestant ecumenism in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

By Rev. Dr. Andre Bokundoa

To best introduce that which the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) is and, at the same time, try to understand its actual vocation in a country facing many difficulties, a retrospective glance could edify and explain today the different positions read in the diverse pastoral letters and notes. Faced with a "culture of permanent spectacle," [1]a culture of desolation and indifference in which the world gradually locks itself in (the DRC is no exception), "Protestantism" and the churches within the ECC have ceased to be silent. The ECC is an institution containing 95 Protestant communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Armed by the power of the resurrection, it places itself as the guardian of universally recognized values for the expansion of the Kingdom of the Good News of God, not only in the DRC but wherever God’s daughters and sons have scattered.

 

Congolese Protestantism has experienced great moral victories and times of crisis, sometimes by positioning itself against injustice and sometimes by compromises that undermine the mission of which it is carrying. Today, in the face of anti-values which impose themselves in rules, this Protestantism recuperates its authentic place as it had during the evangelizing mission of the 19th and 20th centuries and shortly after the period of the country's political independence. It was during this period that Protestantism bore witness to an authentic faith in Christ. A faith grounded in hope that addresses the social and spiritual needs of the population in DRC and critiqued the injustices found in society. This is where the Protestantism of yesteryear stood out and defined itself.

 

To fully understand what gave rise to the ECC, one would have to take an in-depth look at the "rich and decisive past" and to see the "socio-ecclesial realities of the Protestant Churches" [2] and to understand the Protestant ecumenical movement that emerged during the significant period of the evangelizing missions in Congo.   

 

Without wishing to extensively review the history of the mission on this paper, it is worth mentioning the context in which the early Protestant mission societies evangelized in the Congo and their cooperation with one another, which lead to establishing the ecumenical movement and creating the ECC. These early Protestant missionaries often had their mission challenged by a hostile colonial government, yet they had an unwavering commitment to the evangelistic task. Mutual aid and solidarity became the way of survival and gave them the strength to continue working in the colony. Nevertheless, the Protestant missions recognized colonial authority and what it expected of them. In September 1928, after a conference in Kinshasa, they described this concern for collaboration by exchanging local staff (pastors, evangelists).[4]

Taking the mission seriously made it possible for missionary societies to cooperate and reach the whole territory. The first to arrive played the role of scouts and handed over a few missions to those who came after them. The field experience of the predecessors was used to the advantage of those who came after. In 1895, for example, there were these different mission societies: Baptist Missionary Society (BMS), Livingstone Inland Mission (LIM), American Baptist Missionary Union (ABMU) (which will change into American Baptist Missionary Mission Society (ABFMS)), Svenka Mission Forbunde (SMF), and the American Presbyterian Congo Mission (APCM). There were also the Disciples of Christ missionaries from Boston who picked up the work started by the ABFMS in the Equator region, as they wanted to focus on Central Congo and the province of Kwango.

This cooperation was ecumenical de facto within Protestantism in Congo, which went from 12 missions in 1910, the year of the Missionary Conference of Edinburgh, to 26. Between the Conference on the Evangelization of Jerusalem in 1928, and until the creation of the Ecumenical Council of Churches (WCC) in 1948, the mission societies numbered 43.

The break with the Leopoldian state came after Protestant missionaries, despite the good faith manifested in work without "disloyalty" with the colonial government, denounced the cruelties against the black populations during rubber campaigns.

This brief genesis developed through several stages: first it was the Protestant Council of Congo (CPC) up until 1970. On March 8, the Church of Christ in Zaire (ECC) was created, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary last March. The ECC is a very special Church because it accepts and tolerates the diversity of Protestant ecclesiology within it as a richness. It does not, in any way, call into question the saving work and the call of the Lord in the different expressions of the proclamation and reception of the message. Finally, it is a church which does not want to give up its heritage of remaining a "suspect" religion by denouncing injustice, serving as "guardians of universal values", and as a church which does not remain silent in a "culture of permanent spectacle."

In the Democratic Republic of Congo today, the ECC plays the role of Salt of the earth and Light of the world. It continues to positively influence Congolese society on a socio-political level by pursuing its prophetic mission.

Following what the Lord asks by the apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy, the ECC is therefore this Church which preaches the Word on all occasions, reprimands, and exhorts with all gentleness and with instruction (cf. 2 Timothy 4: 2).

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  [1] This expression is by Nobel laureate Professor Denis Mukwege, Protestant Pastor of an ECC member community, from his various speeches given on 10 and 11 March 2020 during his different titles: Doctorate Honoris Causa University of Protestant Congo (UPC) and Excellence by the ECC in Kinshasa. 

[2] Read the Very Remarkable and Monumental Work of the Pastor Professor Philippe Kabongo-Mbaya, who devoted an in-depth study on Zairean Protestantism as was once the name. The short text above was inspired by this work, mainly in its introductory part. The Church of Christ in Zaire. Training and adaptation of Protestantism in a dictatorship situation, Paris, Karthala,1992, pp. 11-19. 

[3] Philippe Kabongo-Mbaya traces this hostility in the aforementioned book between pages 34 and 46.  

[4] Read Vuadi Vibila, Women and Theological Reflection, Hamburg, Verlag an der Lottbek, 1997, pp. 109-110. 

[5] For more information on this topic, Read Adam Hochschild, The ghosts of King Leopold II. A forgotten holocaust, Paris, Belfond, 1998.


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  • Global Ministries (Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ)
    published this page in News 2020-10-12 11:37:37 -0400