The Early Church in North Africa
How Some of Today’s Least-Reached Places Played a Significant Role in the Early Church
By Taylor Murray
Christians often associate the early Church with regions like Greece or Rome. The book of Acts, however, sheds light on another region radically influenced by early Christianity: North Africa.
- At Pentecost, Egyptians and Cyrenians heard the gospel in their own language (Acts 2).
- During his travels, the apostle Philip led an Ethiopian eunuch to Christ (Acts 8).
- At the thriving Antioch church, men from Cyprus and Cyrene share God’s Word with the congregation (Acts 13).
Each of these glimpses provide clues to the transformational spread of Christianity across North Africa. Knowing the history of the region can help and encourage us as we pray and minister to the people who live there today.
A Hub for Christian Theology
During the first few centuries after Christ, many Roman-controlled regions were urban and highly populated. The initial spread of the gospel resulted in a rapid succession of church plants. North African churches became some of the first to convert, disciple and send out gospel workers. These regions became a hub for Christian theology and gospel interpretation.
Home of Church Fathers
Many of the “Church Fathers” were also of North African descent.
- Tertullian, born in Carthage, now found in Tunisia, was the earliest writer of Latin Christian literature and coined the term Trinity.
- Origen, born in Alexandria, Egypt, was the first theologian to develop Christian doctrine systematically.
- Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, was a notable early Christian writer from a Berber family.
- Augustine of Hippo, born in what is now Algeria, may have been the most influential scholar and philosopher of this time. His influence echoes in the work of many who followed.
- Councils held in North Africa helped the early Church wrestle through which books should be considered Scripture. They affirmed the books of the Bible we know today.
Thriving Despite Persecution
As in Rome, the rapid spread of Christianity in North Africa was closely followed by intense persecution. In the year 180 a group of twelve North African Christians were martyred in one of the last acts of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who also died that year. A woman named Perpetua was martyred with several others in 203, but left behind a moving account of her faith and her sacrifice. Many suffered in the Diocletian persecution in 303 AD, the most severe persecution of Christians under Roman control to that point. Despite these testing obstacles, Christianity continued to thrive in North Africa.
A Different Story Today
Only after the advance of Islam in the seventh century did Christianity rapidly decline, though precipitated by weaknesses in the Church at that point. Today, Islamic control is the major reason for persisting persecution. Despite the remaining ruins of Christian basilicas and churches scattered across North Africa, some see those who follow Christian beliefs in these places today as unfaithful and disloyal. North African Christians continue to experience the persecution from friends, family members, communities and government authorities.
Would you commit to pray with us for these persecuted North African believers? Many face job insecurity, abuse and attacks because of their faith.
Pray that North Africa, rich in Christian history, would rediscover a vibrant passion for Jesus.
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