Church Discipline Chronicled - A New Source for Basel Mission Historiography

By Beutter, Anne | History In Africa, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Church Discipline Chronicled - A New Source for Basel Mission Historiography


Beutter, Anne, History In Africa


Abstract: This article uses a hitherto overlooked category of historical source, an outstation chronicle covering the period 1911-1920. It shows how juridical practice within the Protestant mission church of Nkoranza (then in the Ashanti region of what is now central Ghana) created and sharpened a Christian group identity in a predominantly non-Christian context. It is argued that the interdependence of the in-group and out-group at the local level helped to shape the church's juridical forms.

Résumé: Cet article utilise une source historique jusque-là négligée, la chronique d'un avant-poste ("outstation") pendant les années 1911-1920. Il montre comment les pratiques judiciaires de la mission protestante de l'église de Nkoranza (à l'époque dans la région Ashanti, Ghana actuel) avaient un effet sur la vie quotidienne des habitants de Nkoaranaza en façonnant et renforçant l'identité de groupe chrétienne dans un environnement largement non-chrétien. Ainsi, l'interdépendance entre chrétiens du in-group et non-chrétiens du out-group a contribué à la formation de formes juridiques propres à cette église.

Introduction1

"May the congregational regulations ('Gemeindeordnung') (...) under God's blessing fulfil its purpose, to contribute to the erection of our mission church on the Gold Coast, to plant and to care for Christian life, Christian mores, discipline, and order (...)."2 In order to successfully establish a religious option in a context to which it initially is foreign, a missionary enterprise depends on a social group which can put this option into practice. Consequently a mission church can be seen as an institution which intends to act as the framework in the life-world for those individuals who have opted to adopt this new conception of the world, human nature, and God. One aspect of this framework is church law. It is a tangible manifestation of the said worldview, for it is informed by religious concepts and at the same time has a direct impact on the believer's and his vicinity's everyday life.

Thus sources documenting juridical practice can be treated as tangible manifestations of "worldviews" and "moral values." At the same time they bear testimony to the potential collision between theological aspiration and the requirements of everyday life. As John Peel has shown, the latter are crucial in dealing with mission history because "there can be no adequate assessment of a mission's religious impact without a prior analysis of the political setting in which it operated, and of the negotiations through which it established a local place for itself."3 This article argues that the nature of this negotiation process was shaped by the interdependence of the church and the society surrounding it, and that influences were therefore fundamentally mutual.4 Such an approach shows the history of a mission church to be characterized by processes of transculturation. It aims to shed light on the way in which the church adapted to its surroundings by integrating certain aspects of the context and vice versa.5

The realm where these processes are realized is everyday practice at the grassroots level of the church. It is for this basic level of church and society alike that documents on juridical proceedings prove to be valuable sources.6 I will focus on a document that provides information about case-related judicial practice, where interpersonal conflicts were negotiated, rather than on church law or ecclesiastical jurisprudence, as laid down in congregational regulations and the like.7

The case to be studied spans the period from 1911 to 1920. The chronicle of Nkoranza, a newly founded outstation of the Basel Mission on the northern perimeter of the metropolitan region of Ashanti in what today is central Ghana, will be examined in order to describe the juridical procedures in the church. This descriptive approach is warranted because neither this type of source shedding light on everyday practices in the world of local church-agents and adherents nor mission church law have received much scholarly attention,8 even though reflections upon closely related topics mention it in passing. …

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