Returning to our roots: Mission in Tunisia Today and St Cyprian
Date added: 20/04/2016
Returning to our roots: Mission in Tunisia Today and St Cyprian
Tunisia is a great country in highest point of North Africa , it is known in the past as a light house of Latin world of Christianity, In 670 an Arab Muslim army under Uqba ibn Nafi, who had commanded an earlier incursion in 666, entered the region of Ifriqiya (Arabic for the Province of Africa). Arriving by land the Arabs passed by Byzantine fortified positions along the Mediterranean coast. In the more arid south, the city of Kairouan was established as their base. This Kairouan was in the heart of Tunisia. The Christianity disappeared from Tunisia for 15 century, church defunct with no hope or rising again. But in the end of 20 century the hope of reviving these defunct roots of the church had raised again. Among the 12 Millions of Tunisian many hundreds become Christians now, not because of a church but through dreams and heavenly messages.
As I started myself to work as a missionary in Tunisia since 2014, I found that the mission in Tunisia is growing daily as much as the terrorism and political Islam are growing, also, as much as the obstacles and barriers increased against the evangelism. Although, there are many small churches, and Christian groups which built by missionaries or Para-church organizations, there is no definite form for the national born baby church in Tunisia. Although, many people come to the Christian faith, many others leave it as they are misunderstanding the real meaning of the church and its unity and diversity and the lack of the church example to watch and follow.
Tunisians’ passion is leading them more strongly than mind and their respect for the tribes and families' culture is more important than religion. So, the recognition to their Christian roots will give them security and self-esteem and this is the base upon which we can, as a missionaries, revive the defunct national church in Tunisia which impact the Western Church in the past. One of the most important roots is the teaching of St. Cyprian about the church, unity and diversity.
The Struggle of Today
The Christianity growth that based on the Evangelism which means the proclaiming and the sharing of the good news to the others who do not know about, will be easier if you live in a country allows you to share your faith openly without any cautions. But this was not the case of the early church as well as the born baby church in Tunisia now. we can see in book of Acts where the evangelism is countered by persecution but this wind of persecution always increase the flame of spreading the Gospel (Stott, 1990: 146). Islam is like Christianity; are "avowedly missionary faiths"(Musk, 2005: 37), and this countering and persecuting from Islamic culture is one of the winds that will increase the flames in Tunisia.
i. Revival of dreams
The revival of Christianity in North Africa (especially; Tunis) started in the end of last century. This is the period in between 1995 and 1997 and it is known among the believers and churches in Algeria and Morocco also, before this period a few people knew the Christian faith most of them were abroad in Europe ,but during this period hundreds become a Christians. This was the start point of revival with no evangelism and not through missions or missionary work or the historical churches but through dreams. There are a lot of testimonies from those believers who knew Jesus through the dreams in this time, but now the evangelism take place by telling others about their dreams and faith; one to one.
ii. Missions in Tunisia today
In last decades a large number of the foreign missionaries (who speak native languages different from Arabic) came to Tunisia to proclaim the salvation, especially after the Arabian spring revolutions.
The problem was the attitude of the most of these missions, it was not to revive the national church which disappeared with the coming of the Islamic armies in the seventh century, hundreds of years ago, but to diminish all the traces of the old faith to build a new colonies that will follow their faith, church, or denominations but not to revive the defunct church. This is explaining why the Tunisians' believers have no definite national church till now although the number of believers is incredibly increasing day by day.
iii. The Governments pressures
Tunisia governed by Muslim governments. These Governments try to pressure the church growth by many ways; may be to please the population of the Muslim majority, or because they are against the Christianity as a religion as in case of "NAHDA" Government.
The most of the pressure come upon the historical churches; The Catholic churches was transferred to the state under a modus vivendi  , and Anglicans' church not protected by the police in sometimes and in other times "over protected" even to not allow Tunisian entrance. The churches in home, or small group are illegal by law but sometimes the government do not disturb, so the missionaries should be under the cover of a work or company to allow them to stay for more time.
iv. One boat and many captains
The church in Tunisia is growing day by day, and missionaries come from every part of the world to share in the harvest. This is a good heart, but sometimes the good intensions are not enough to produce good results. In fact, the church in Tunisia is still young in age and relatively small in numbers. So, a lot of input from different people may become a harmful. It is like a small boat led by many captains with only one or two passengers who do not know how to swim and do not know whom they need to follow his instructions to save their souls.
Some missionaries had been led by their financial needs. This led them to show the speed progress of their work to their organizations; by baptizing many people who are not really believe in Christ, his death and resurrection. Ofcourse this is increasing the number of the false Christians and affect the building of healthy church.
v. The national church
The last and major danger which threatens the church is the church itself; there is no strong national church with a clear doctrine, they are swinging between two extremes; the containing of all the different inputs from different missionaries and denominations, or, to reject all the inputs and try to be without any roots at all.
Unity and diversity of the church
i. From the beginning,
" The church has never learned irrevocably the truth of its own unity or equality of its member in Christ, … The same ugly sin of discrimination has kept reappearing in the church in the form of racism(color prejudice) nationalism(my country, right or wrong) Tribalism in Africa" (Stott,1990: 197). The structure of the church was not shaped at the first and second generations the church formation yet as it is today, but the seeds of this structure and organization can be found obviously from the first moment of the church. The Apostles role (and the Bishop role after them) and the mission of the church joined together to change the world, in his study book for Acts, Stott conclude that "change is painful to us all" (Stott, 1990: 143). One of this pains is the acceptance of the different new people who vary in their customs and habits, and this can only take place if we have a regulatory laws, and love.
ii. The importance of the Bishops' role
The Bishop's role increased as much as the mission extended to regulate the church and keep the faith healthy, because the role of the bishops to regulate the Christian life and to communicate with other churches was the backbone of the unity and The Christian community in his early generations show great variety (Latourette, 1975).
In the first century, there was not an administrative form or structural unity between the churches around the world, and the authority for the central churches such as, Jerusalem, was more that of prestige than of precise canon law. Although we can read in the book of Acts, about Bishops, Presbyters (which is used as Priest or Elder nowadays) and Deacons, but there is "no central administration existed as the instrument for knitting together their many local units of the church into a single articulated structure" (Latourette, 1975:115-116).
iii. The Book of Didache;
one of the early church fathers' writings described how the believers should honor the bishops and deacons side by side with teachers and prophets in the churches,
"Appoint for yourselves therefore bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men who are meek and not lovers of money, and true and approved; for unto you they also perform the service of the prophets and teachers. Therefore despise them not; for they are your honorable men along with the prophets and teachers." (Did 15: 1-4)
iv. Bishop Ignatius;
In the begging of the second century, Bishop Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (c.35 – c.108), in his Journey for martyrdom had wrote epistles to many churches. In his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, he encouraged them to follow the bishops:
" See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. "(Smyrna. VIII)
Bishop Ignatius putting a structure of the submitting and accountability and stressing again that the dishonoring of the Bishop "destroying the [Church's] unity"(Smyrna. IX) , and also the same of presbyter or deacon. BISHOP Ignatius conjugate the unity of the church to the authority of the Bishop and sharing in the Blood of our Lord (Smyrna. VI)
There is a continuity in the theme of church organization structure can be found in this epistle, because this structure of the church in Ignatius' epistle is very close to what found in Paul's teaching about the church and its unity, as Dunn said about the church structure in the epistles of Paul "we see an understanding of church structure which seems much closer to Ignatius than to Paul!"(Dunn, 2006:124), but this unity does not prevent the diversity of the New Testament church because it provides the basis for the multiplicity of the confessions. (Dunn, 2006: 132, 432-433)
v. Bishop Polycarp (AD 69 – 155);
Also, in his Epistle to Philippi (V: II- III, VI: I) gave an explanation for what is the laity, and presbyters good manners.
As we can see, the role of Bishop has not been invented by the church in the third century but it had many years to be crystalized in its fine shape. One of the most impressive Bishops in Tunisia, St Cyprian who had an organized and detailed teachings about the church and its unity by Bishops and its mission to the sinners.
ST. CYPRIAN AND THE CHURCH UNITY
He is, Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, (c. 200 – September 14, 258 AD) anearly Christian theologian and bishop of Carthage who led the Christians of Tunisia during a period of persecution from Rome. Upon his execution he became the first bishop-martyr of Africa, as the Britannica Encyclopedia recognize him, but the most inspiring identification wrote by Pontius his Deacon.
i. Unfair criticism
St Cyprian may be subjected to unfair criticism for many of his ideas that actually appear him as a defender of the Catholic Church, but this idea has a lot of fallacies as the researcher will present in this paper.
Firstly, His teaching was not about to be subjected to the authority of the catholic Church, because "the Pope" form which now known were not emerged yet, Even the title of " the Bishop of the Bishops" was not used as a position during this time .
St. Cyprian as a Bishop of Carthage sent a letter to (Pope) Pompeius, and addressed him as his dearest brother and he sent copies for the other bishops including the Bishop of Rome (Stephen) who also addressed as a brother which refer to the equality- even with St. Cyprian declaration in his Treatise V, "On The Unity Of The Church" that the Bishop of Rome set on the chair of Peter the apostle- here he speaks about the primacy of Peter but not the supremacy of Rome's Bishop.
This letter had been written as an objection from him to the reply of Bishop Stephen who used an authoritative way of answer , but St. Cyprian asserts the independent responsibility of each Bishop (Epist. LXXIV: 1)
This is one of many reasons that let the researcher claim that St Cyprian was a defender of the Church as a "catholic," "universal".
ii. St Cyprian in the church unity and mission
St. C., in his Fifth treatise around A. D. 251, discussed the unity of the church, but it seems the same situation that we lived today in Tunisia church, no unity, losing the leadership, all others –such as the church of Rome- try to be involved in the church. And this is threaten the growth and resistance of the church and its mission, so he started his book with warning "FORASMUCH as the Lord warns us, saying, Ye are the salt of the earth…".
This entrance warning show us the purpose of his book, it's about keeping ourselves as salt of earth, which refer to the witness to the world about Jesus Christ, and keeping watch the trap of the enemy to.
Salvation is only in the church, one of the controversial quotes in this book, but the understanding of within the purpose of the book give a different meaning, which is more apostolic, because the church is the body of Christ who has the responsibility to reach out the sinners, so no salvation far from the church, and any group or method which claims having salvation way while they are in disagreement with Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit is a deceiving trap. (V: 1, 2, 4, 8,19,…), so the real church which is led by the Holy Spirit will try to keep the unity to achieve the great commission of the church.
Living in peace with the brethren, is another point define the real church in the point of view of St. C. (V: 12). He cannot consider any of those who longing to the schism as a church, because they break the biblical concept which has been adopted by John the apostle in his Epistle, that what made him consider those who are not loving their brethren and want to divide the church as a wolves not a shepherd (V: 8,9).
Unity is not against the multiplicity; this what we can understand from the second half of (V: 4). St. C. do not neglect the diversity of the church, in many ways but he denies that people who "strive against and resist the church" are having the same biblical faith.
Charity and good works is one of those factors to strengthen the unity ( V: 20). St. C. linked the faith with the doing the good for people around us. Here again the purpose of the book revealed; it’s the reaching out people and be a true witness about Christ.
iii. St Cyprian in church model and mission
In his Fifth Epistle St. C. show the example of the good shepherd, where he give instructions to his clergy not in authoritative way but with a tender love and care. He ask about their safety and security (Epist. V: 1). He was very humble to ask their wisdom in the case of visiting the confessors in the prison (Epist. V: 2). He encouraged them to "done it cautiously but not in cowards" (ibid).
In his Seventh Epistle also shows his heart to his "dearest brothers" (Epist. VII: 1) and shares his plans and thoughts about the future visit, he ask them to take care of widows, poor and strangers, ending his letter with these words: "
"I bid you, dearest brethren, ever heartily farewell, and remember me"
Many other epistles St. C. wrote to the clergy of Carthage (Epist. 5, 7, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 26, 29, 32, 34) and all have the same heart of the good shepherd and prove the continuous corresponding and communications between the Bishop and clergy even in his worst conditions.
This example of the leader in the church in Tunisia teach the real Christian life and show the love and peace of Christ to the nations. And this give the model of the church that attract people from the world, a church where the head is humble and the body is giving hand to all those in need.
THE IDENTITY OF THE CHURCH OF TUNISIA TODAY
What is the importance for the converted people to Christianity to know all these information about the church unity and mission, in fact one of the most important factors to have a successful church in Tunisia is the flourishing the defunct roots of the church. Recognize to the church model that exist in the same place many centuries ago. This is the only way to create the distinct identity of the church rather than copying the European or American versions of the church which is different in surrounding conditions.
i. Cultural and/or religion issue
The church of Tunisia today consists of the new believers who came from Islamic background. This new believer is exposed to a lot of psychological and familial problems; parents and community accuses them that they are betraying the cultural and religious convictions, and reject their partaking in community. The Christians in Tunisia act as uprooted plants which cannot stand or resist the community winds of persecution or ignorance. Because the Christian faith isolates believers from the community and that increase the difficulties of the Evangelism and mission of the church accordingly.
When the Christian of Tunisia becomes acquainted with his Christian heritage that roots him and give him encouragement to face the community, without shame and that increase the chances for the evangelism.
ii. Front doors and back doors
Most of the churches in Tunisia are suffering of the same problem which is losing sheep; a lot of people who come from the front door, flee again from the back door. This takes place because the new people comes with wrong imagination or idealistic view to the church such as; it is the place of peace and love, or it is the place where I can do all the sins and easily find the forgiveness, or may be some come because they just want to rebel against his/ her background.
iii. Church without a model
Nowadays the national church model in Tunisia affected by the model that the missionaries bring it with them. In many cases you cannot find a definite doctrine or model for the church, even there is no definite approach for those people who is the responsible in the same church.
The Islamic background of the searching for the best teaching of every "sheikh" i.e. Elder, or the going to every available mosque to grasp the goodness, is still present in the Tunisian believers'' mind. So even the leaders try to gain the knowledge from every offered materials without discernment.
"African pastors and teachers and worshippers are beginning to recognize their own Christian identity in the consensual tradition of the African church"(Oden, 2007)
The solution is to dig in our soil of Christian faith of Tunisian Church to find our roots and only this will help to create our modern and rooted model. Church of unity and peace among the brethren, this is not against the multiplicity. This given the churches a hard base to be built upon it.
ONE CHURCH AND ONE MISSION
Unity; in the Church of Tunisia today, is the most important key to face the persecution and the false teaching that come and go from everywhere in the world. As one church no matter the color and language or even the worship style we can approach the great commission to all the sinner in this part of the world.
The example of acceptance, within the church (with all the different denominations) is the message of the gospel, gospel of peace, and every on cooperate in this peace making is a part of the "One church". As St. Cyprian show us the way to be one church not by saying the same Mass, nor to submit ourselves to one authoritative church (Denomination), but by submitting ourselves to the gospel message, and take the benefits of the potential resources of the church's structural and organizational form that based on the example of the early church that we saw its continuity and consistency.
The mission of the church; can be achieved in Tunisia, only by seeing the forgiveness among the churches' members from warring tribes, when people sees the peace that made by the catholic and universal churches, they will accept and believe the message of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Dunn, James D. G. (2006). Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity, Third Ed. London: SCM Press
Latourette, Kenneth S. (1975). A History of Christianity, Vol. II. New York: Harper & Row, Pub.
Musk, Bill. A. (2005). Kissing Cousins: Christian and Muslims face to face, UK: Monarch Books.
Oden, Thomas. (2007). How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: The African Seedbed of Western Christianity, Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press.
--------------, (2011). The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition, Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press.
St. Cyprian. (1838-1893). Treatise V , On The Unity Of The Church, A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, anterior to the division of the East and West. VOL 3 (Oxford/London: Parker/Rivington.
----------. (1838-1893). Epistles LXXIV: Cyprian to his brother Pompeius, A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, anterior to the division of the East and West. VOL 3 (Oxford/London : Parker/Rivington
Stott, John R. W. (1990). The Message of Acts: To the Ends of the Earth, England: IVP.
Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org (April, 2016).
St. Ignatius. Epistle to the Smyrnaeans. Trans. and ed., J. B. Lightfoot, Early Church father's writings. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com (April, 2016)
St. Polycarp. Epistle to Philippi, Trans. by: Roberts- Donaldson, Early Church fathers writings. . http://www.earlychristianwritings.com (April, 2016)
 H. Mones, "The Conquest of North Africa and Berber resistance" in I. Hrbek (ed.), General History of Africa (Univ.of California/UNESCO 1992) at 118-129, 122-123. Prof. Mones provides a description of the various Berber tribes of this era, their locations and alliances, at 118-120. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Tunisia#cite_note-158
 Modus means mode, way (or method, manner). Vivendi means of living. Together, way of living implies an accommodation between disputing parties to allow life to go on. It usually describes informal and temporary arrangements in political affairs.
Trans. and ed., J. B. Lightfoot, April, 2016.
Trans. by: Roberts- Donaldson, April, 2016.
 This is based on true testimonies from Tunisian and Algerian believers who used the Christian heritage to reconcile with the community, as in case of some believers from "Qabilee" or Tamazight which means trips. And some others use this historical background to be an anchor to speak about North Africa Christianity and then the Gospel.