While living in New York, an Egyptian Coptic Church built (1990) a new temple in Woodbury, New York. I was amazed at their architecture and location to build their gathering place. Of great interest is the name of the church: St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Center/ St. Abraam Church. This double name ties them back to St. Mark, one of the four evangelists/gospels.
Oden uses the Coptic church as a strong point of Africa’s long term influence on today’s church. “For two thousand years they have been teaching that Jesus Christ is Lord, that God is the Creator, that the Holy Spirit works to reveal the purpose of God through the written Word. Catholics, Protestants and Pentecostals can all join them in these eat confessions.”
I started to research them while we were living there. They were a bit clannish, but their central doctrine was close to my fundamentals of the faith. I wasn’t sure if it was pure survival of their Coptic tradition or was it acceptability in a high-end, luxury portion of Long Island. Whatever the case, they built a beautiful building in a prime location regardless of acceptability of the area churches.
The following is from their website, under “The Coptic Faith” (www.stabraam.org)
The Coptic Orthodox Statement of Faith
“The Nicene Creed”
We believe in one God, God the Father, the Almighty, Who created heaven and earth, and all things, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not created, of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us, men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnated of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried. And on the third day He rose from the dead, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into the heavens; and sat at the right hand of His Father, and also He is coming again in His glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom has no end.
Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Life-Giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who, with the Father and the Son, is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke in the prophets. And in one holy, catholic and apostolic church. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the coming age. Amen.
Thomas Oden in his work, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, offers a informing and scathing edict to the Western church. Oden states, “There soon may be almost a half billion Christians in Africa. Now estimated at over four hundred million (46 percent of the total African population of 890,000,000 according to the Pew Forum), and rapidly growing, a significant proportion of global Christian believers at this time are residents of the continent of Africa.”
Africa cannot be overlooked today, but Oden attempts to tie us back to Africa’s rich history in forming and shaping today’s view of Christianity. We, as Westerner’s, want to claim our deep European and Mid-East history, negating the rich African heritage that influences us today. Oden reconstructs history, from an African perspective.
Oden outlines his case with Chapter 2 – Seven Ways Africa Shaped the Christian Mind. At first glance, that statement seems a bit of a stretch. He seven points showed:
- How the birth of the European university was anticipated within African Christianity
- How Christian historical and spiritual exegesis of Scripture first matured in Africa
- How African thinkers shaped the very core of the most basic early Christian dogma
- How early ecumenical decisions followed African conciliar patterns
- How Africa shaped Western forms of spiritual formation through monastic disciplines
- How Neoplatonic philosophy of late antiquity moved from Africa to Europe
- How influential literary and dialectical skills were refined in Africa
I may not have flinched as much when I recalled Oden’s statement in Chapter 1. Oden stated, “Some Westerners will turn away from even hearing Africa’s ancient Christian heritage because of seated prejudices about the assumed unimportance of Africa to world history.” I had to examine my own heart to see if there were hidden prejudices that Oden had outlined present.
One could argue that Oden is slanted and is trying to prove his view of Africa’s ability to shape the Christian mind. At times his writing seems to be a bit “reaching”. Yet when finished reading, I was more convicted than convinced. I am not inferring that I do not agree with Oden. I was reeling from exposure to solid truth.
 Thomas C. Oden. How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007), 97-98.
 Ibid., 10.
 Ibid., 42-43.
 Ibid., 35.