- Congo is the name of two countries located on either side of the Congo River in Central Africa, the Republic of the Congo being a former French colony, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a former Belgian colony. The Roman Catholic Church was introduced to the Congo River basin in 1491, and in both Congos, the Roman Catholic Church represents about half of the population.Protestantism arrived in 1878, when George Grenfell and Thomas Comber (1852-87), two British Baptist missionaries, made some initial exploration up the Congo River. Grenfell soon resigned from the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) but Comber persevered. Despite the loss of several family members, he continued working to establish the Baptist Church's mission among the Bakongo people. His first convert, Mbanza Kongo, was baptized in 1886.In 1880, Grenfell reconciled with the BMS and oversaw the construction of Peace, a ship designed to navigate the upper Congo. Returning to Africa, he made the exploration of the river his life's work. Over the next 15 years, a string of mission stations were opened from modern Kinshasa to near Kisangani. Unfortunately, Grenfell played into the hands of Belgian King Leopold II, who in 1885 was acknowledged by the European powers as ruler of the lands south and west of the river. Ignoring the growing catalogue of abuses by Belgian colonists, Grenfell worked with Leopold and refused to blame him for what was occurring until near the end of his life.Following the British Baptists were the American Baptists, Presbyterians, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church. In 1885, Methodist bishop William Taylor came to the Congo and set up the first Methodist work. All of the 19th-century work operated on the south side of the river in Belgian territory. It would not be until 1990 that a Protestant group, the Swedish Mission Covenant Church, would enter the former French territory.The Belgian Congo became a popular target for missionaries in the early 20th century, and a spectrum of churches set up missions. Most successful were the Christian Brethren, the Men-nonites, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The most important movement of the early 20th century, however, was an African Initiated Church (AIC) founded by Simon Kimbangu. Kim-bangu began preaching and healing in 1921. In a short time, worried Belgian authorities arrested him, and he spent the rest of his life in jail. Nevertheless, he attracted a following that grew into a multimillion-member international church, the first of the AICs to become a member of the World Council of Churches. Through the rest of the century, hundreds of AICs sprouted in the Congo, though none with the appeal of the Kim-banguists.Pentecostalism came to the Congo in 1915 through the Congo Evangelistic Mission based in England. By the end of the decade, representatives of the Assemblies of God in Great Britain and Ireland and the Assemblies of God in the United States had also arrived.In the decades after World War II, the mission churches hurried to complete the process of indi-genization. Both Congos became independent in 1960 and established their capitals across the river from each other in Brazzaville and Kinshasa. After several years of instability, Sese Seko Mobutu (1930-97) came to power in the former Belgian Congo, changed the country's name to Zaire, and led an increasingly repressive regime.In 1970, the Mobutu government demanded that all of the Protestant churches unite into one body, the Church of Christ in Zaire, using the previously existing Congo Protestant Council as the starting point for the new organization. In 1971, eight churches tried to withdraw from the merged body and set up an alternative church, but were forced by the government to drop their quest. The Kimbanguists were allowed to exist as a separate body (along with the Catholic and Orthodox churches). Denominations were allowed to maintain a separate identity as a "community" Outside of Zaire, each church was still recognized as a separate body, a number of which joined the World Council of Churches. Those churches that refused to join the united church were denied recognition and many ceased to exist. A few were able to survive the Mobutu era, including the Jehovah's Witnesses, ideologically opposed to government ties. The government blocked the attempt of conservative churches to organize a local affiliate of the World Evangelical Alliance.The total Protestant community is approximately 22 million, some 45 percent of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the post-Mobutu country name).In the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), there is a Council of Churches with three members - the Evangelical Church (from the original Swedish work), the Salvation Army, and the Kim-baguists; the council is affiliated with the World Council of Churches.Further reading:■ Kenneth Lee Adelman, "The Church-State Conflict in Zaire," African Studies Review, 18, no. 1, April 1975: 103-16■ E. Anderson, Churches at the Grass-Roots: A Study in Congo-Brazzaville (London: Lutterworth, 1968)■ E. M. Braekman, Historie du Protestantisme au Congo (Brussels: Eclaireurs unionistes, 1961)■ Peter Forbath, The River Congo: The Discovery, Exploration, and Exploitation of the World's Most Dramatic River (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977)■ Cecilia Irvine, The Church of Christ in Zaire (Indianapolis, Ind.: Christ Church, 1978).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.