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More on AICs

Here is some more information on African Independent (Initiated, Indigenous, Instituted) Churches, and especially a discussion of some of the terminology used. For an introduction to some of the problems with the terminology, see the article African Independent Churches - judgment through terminology?

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Sorting out the terminology

One of the problems with any discussion of AICs is what the initials stand for, and especially what the "I" stands for. Some people insist that it should be "independent", others that it should be "initiated", or "instituted", or "indigenous". People who are not members of an AIC sometimes think an easy way to solve the problem is to "ask the AICs themselves", but with more than 10000 AICs there is no agreement on what it should be. Some prefer one or another, while most don't particularly care -- their denomination has its own name, and they are not really interested in how outsiders want to classify them.

There are basically two groups of people for whom the terminology is a problem:

  • Associations of AICs
  • Researchers into AICs who are studying more than one denomination
Associations usually like to have things nice and tidy, so if they have the letters AIC in their name, they are likely to opt for one word to be represented by the "I", and stick to it. There may be some debate about it at the time that the association is formed, and the arguments used in such debates are afterwards used to justify the use of a particular term.

Researchers often cause the problems in the first place, with their desire to analyse and categorise, though sometimes they are just trying to be polite. "African Independent Churches" sounded better than "Native Separatist Churches" - a term often used by colonial officials. 

In spite of the problems of categorisation, however, there is something to be said for using the various terms for different categories, which do not altogether overlap.

  • African Independent Churches are bodies that have originated in Africa, and are not dependent on any religious groups outside Africa for funding, leadership or control.
  • African Initiated Churches are those that were started as a result of African initiative in African countries, but may be affiliated to wider bodies that include non-African members.
  • African Indigenous Churches are those that have and retain an African ethos, and whose theology has developed a distinctive local flavour.
  • African Instituted Churches whose establishment and growth have taken place on African soil.
These categories may overlap to some extent, but they do not overlap completely. For example, the African Orthodox Churches of Kenya and Uganda are undoubtedly African Initiated Churches. Each was started independently of the other in the 1920s and 1930s as a result of the initiative of African Christians in those countries. But they are not, strictly speaking, African Independent Churches, since they united in 1946 with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, and cannot act independently of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate, which represents the whole continent.

Another example is many of the new Pentecostal denominations that have started in the last couple of decades of the 20th century. They are both African Initiated and African Independent Churches, but most of them are not African Indigenous Churches, since much of their theology and practice derive from the world-wide neo-Pentecostal movement.

So the initials AIC could indeed stand for four slightly different and partly overlapping characteristics, and a church group with one or more of those characteristics could be described as an AIC.

Stephen Hayes
16 August 2000

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