Author:       Tishken, Joel E.,
Title:        "Prophecy and Power in Afro-Christian Churches: A Comparative Analysis
              of the Nazareth Baptist Church and Eglise Kimbanguiste."

Date:         2002
Institution:  University of Texas at Austin
Degree:       Ph.D.


This dissertation compares the role of prophecy and the regulation of prophetic power in two of Africa's most important Afro-Christian Churches: the Nazareth Baptist Church (NBC) and the Eglise Kimbanguiste (EJCSK). The first was formed in South Africa by Isaiah Shembe in 1910. Simon Kimbangu founded the second in the Belgian Congo in 1921. Previous studies have focused on the degree to which these churches do or do not manifest Christian orthodoxy as defined by Western theologians. However, this calibration of orthodoxy is a political question concerning the ownership of Christianity, and has little to do with the theology and practice of each church. In contrast to the previous literature, this study asserts that prophecy, not orthodoxy, is the most important factor in understanding these two churches. Using recorded words of the prophets, oral traditions, parables, hymns, prayers, and government and missionary records, I argue for the centrality of prophecy in the theology and practice of the NBC and EJCSK. These prophets possessed a sincere belief that they were fulfilling a divine mission, and both churches have maintained that their respective founding prophet was a special messenger sent by God to redeem Africans, as Moses did for the Jews. Based upon these principles, each church has seen the Word of God as a living entity that exists in their present, revealed through prophetic revelation. Both the NBC and EJCSK have avoided schismatic movements due to a restriction of prophetic access and a relatively clear succession of leadership. The churches were kept intact precisely because so few people could claim to know the will of God. Both churches restricted access to prophecy to the founding prophets and their male progeny. Because of this, false prophets were easy to identify and dismiss, as a number of case studies reveal. In related fashion, organizational leadership also passed down the male line of the prophet's progeny. Leadership claims are grounded in the ability to prophesize and receive prophecies from the respective founders, again illustrating prophecy's centrality to any understanding of these two key Afro-Christian churches.

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First Online Edition: 3 May 2004
Last Revised: 3 May 2004

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