Churches in Cameroon: Battling to Rejoice in the Riches of Christ
Despite the proliferation of the prosperity gospel, churches in Cameroon are blessed with an evangelistic fervor and missionary zeal.
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I was born in Cameroon, and I grew up in the small town of Ndu, in the Northwest Province, next to the Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary. Through its schools and hospitals, the Baptist denomination has had a significant influence throughout Cameroon, including the village where I grew up. That’s because the gospel first came to us through Baptist missionaries: Alfred Saker and Joseph Merrick. Saker first began evangelizing the Cameroonian people in 1844, and he founded one of the major cities in the country, Victoria (now Limbe). There he translated the Bible into the Douala language. Both Saker and Merrick have Baptist schools named after them: Saker Baptist College (in Limbe) and Joseph Merrick Baptist College, located in my hometown, Ndu.
Despite the roots of Christianity in Cameroon, there’s now a “new gospel” being preached to Cameroonians that is leading people astray and away from the true gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to share the devastating effects of this “gospel” on Cameroonians, while also talking about God’s blessings on the church even in the midst of false teaching.
HARMED BY THE PROSPERITY GOSPEL & SCANDAL
First and foremost, the church in Cameroon struggles theologically. It’s rare to find a church that faithfully preaches the true and unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ. This is partly because of a lack of solid theological education for ministers and the damaging effects of false teaching. Paul said, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Tim. 4:3). This is precisely what’s happening in Cameroon and throughout Africa.
The prosperity gospel is pervasive. Prosperity preachers teach people to come to Jesus for better health and more wealth. According to their gospel, Jesus is no more than a means to an end. In Cameroon, many pastors also teach that the children of God must not suffer. These pastors say all suffering is demonic and those who suffer are pagans. They teach that churches without miracles are not of God, thus deterring people from solid, Bible-believing churches.
Sadly, even some evangelical churches have been contaminated with these lies. As faithful pastors watch their members leave their churches to go after false teachers, they’re tempted to preach dumbed-down versions of the prosperity gospel because it attracts a crowd. Some ministers I know personally have gone down this accursed path.
Many churches have also been plagued with scandals. Some pastors have been caught in sexual immorality. In our relational society with tight-knit communities, news like this spreads like wildfire—and it gives the church a bad name. These scandals have hurt the gospel witness of the church and even discouraged Christians from attending church altogether.
HINDERED BY TRADITIONALISM
Yet problems persist even among churches that have remained faithful to the gospel. Many are crippled by poor structure. They lack a plurality of elders and, most commonly, are led by deacons and a single pastor who preaches. Some also have an appointed deacon who claims authority over the pastor. Some churches will have more than one vocational elder, usually from a nearby seminary, but virtually no churches have non-vocational elders. This is why you can find churches with 2000 members led by a single pastor.
To make matters more difficult, church members expect quite a bit from their lone pastor. Because they pay him, they expect him to fulfill all the ministries of the church, while also giving them all his time. Meanwhile, his family suffers, and rather than lightening the pastor’s load, deacons look to the pastor to do all the member care, rendering him ineffective in the ministry of the Word and prayer. Deacons do this because they’re otften tasked with making decisions for the church.
Although local churches in Cameroon have fervently spread the gospel within their communities, they’ve not done much missionary work amidst the close to 20 unreached tribes in Cameroon.
EVANGELISTICALLY STRATEGIC & FERVENT
Cameroon is blessed to have seen many “beautiful feet” cross its shores since the time of Joseph Merrick (Rom. 10:15). Missionaries and Bible translators have poured in resources to reach our 293 people groups. With the help of CABTAL (Cameroon Association for Bible Translation and Literacy), about 23 different tribes now have at least the New Testament in their heart language. Now that people are able to hear the truth in their native tongue, this has reduced both nominal Christianity and syncretism.
Cameroonian Christians make great use of the media to spread the gospel within the country. Many Christian TV channels, radio stations, and websites spread the gospel to those who don’t attend any local church.
Gratefully, church planting is also happening—in both urban and rural areas. In one major city, Bamenda, there’s at least one church on every street. Churches regularly offer evangelistic outreach programs, as they seek to advance the gospel in their respective communities. As I mentioned earlier, most mainstream denominations own schools, hospitals, and universities that provide social assistance to the Cameroonian people and therefore enhance the spread of the gospel.
The church in Cameroon has a unique providential advantage to reach both English and French-speaking countries because both are its official languages. Though Cameroonians also speak at least 230 tribal languages, most speak English and French. Thankfully, Cameroon Baptist Convention, L’Union des Églises Baptistes du Cameroon, and other Baptist denominations are beginning to focus on missionary work to the unreached, especially in the northern part of the country where most Cameroonian Muslims reside. Courageous pastors are planting churches in this area, despite the presence of Boko Haram, a Muslim terrorist group in West Africa. Perhaps after reaching Muslim peoples in the north, Christians will engage other unreached groups in other parts of Cameroon; perhaps they’ll even begin to look beyond the border of Cameroon to wherever the else the Lord is calling them.
Although theological training remains a great need, most interdenominational seminaries are expanding their faculty, deepening their academic programs, and gaining accreditation status. They’re motivated to better equip pastors because of the growing challenges in Cameroon.
Despite the many challenges the Cameroonian church faces, I remain encouraged. God is blessing his people with evangelistic fervor and missionary support. Even when this doesn’t seem like enough to combat the darkness of the prosperity gospel, I trust wholeheartedly that Christ is building his church in Cameroon and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.
Author’s note: Special thanks to Edwin Nfor for his collaboration on this article.
Philemon Bungansa Nfor and Samuel W. Jab, Effective Church Ministry Through Multiple Staffing (Yaoundé: Mount Zion, 2013), 50.
Sadly, the prosperity gospel preachers use the media far more than the faithful preachers of the true gospel of Christ.