Ethiopia, a nation where diversity of religions and cultures was seen as a national threat, has now ensured the equal rights of all religions before the law. As a result, Protestant Christian churches in the urban settings received acceptance, whereas in regional settings Protestant minorities are usually excluded from social and economic life. In spite of the challenges, Protestant churches have continued to grow. The challenge with Protestant churches in Ethiopia is that they can be growing, yet lack direct impact on the society. Evangelicals seek to evangelize and win souls for Christ, but they are often observed competing against one another.
Reading A Secular Age by Charles Taylor has helped me to understand the process that led the Western society to secularity. The author carefully traces the process starting from the world of 1500 where everything was told in favor of God’s presence, to the present time where the disbelief in the presence of God is not only easy, but also inescapable (p.1). Furthermore Taylor describes the shift to secularity, ” among other things, of a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace” (p.3). Thus for modern unbelievers the enchanted world of spirits, demons, and moral forces that once made undeniable the presence of God, is virtually inconceivable. On the contrary, the worlds of spirits are highly recognized in African cultures. Churches preach a message that promises healing from sickness and fear of evil spirits. There are also ample records in the gospel accounts where Jesus and His disciples freed people possessed with evil spirits.
There are incredible variations between modern believers and unbelievers in the ways they experience fullness. For instance, “For believers, often or typically, the sense is that fullness comes to them, that it is something they receive; moreover, receive in something like a personal relation, from another being capable of love and giving; approaching fullness involves among other things, practices of devotion and prayer (as well as charity, giving); and they are aware of being very far from the condition of full devotion and giving; they are aware of being self-enclosed, bound to lesser things and goals, not able to open themselves and receive/give as they would at the place of fullness,” whereas the modern unbeliever, “the power to reach fullness is within” (p.8). Taylor’s description makes sense to me because it explains Christian formation not merely as a theory in people’s mind, but rather a lived experience. So, to restate Taylor’s question, what does it mean for us to say our fullness comes from God? It starts with our realization of our call to center everything on God. Human flourishing is important but not our ultimate goal (p.18). And we are called to collaborate with God in continuing the work that Jesus and His disciples began. Thus, the challenge I observe in my Ethiopian Christianity has to do with the practical components of our love for God and our neighbors. Churches seem so committed to winning souls, yet they are passive in the social environment and renewal. The danger to evangelical churches in Ethiopia is not secularization or the rise of other religions, but our leaders’ failure to equip believers to engage with their neighbors for the common good.