THE LEGACIES OF THE BASEL MISSION IN GHANA REVISITED
The Basel Mission (BM) a non-denominational ecumenical missionary society founded in 1815
made its presence significantly felt in Ghana from 1828 to 1918. Its role in the socio-economic,
cultural and religious life of Ghanaians is undisputed. The Presbyterian Church of Ghana, which
stands in historical succession to the Basel Mission, is a living testimony of the legacy of the BM
to Ghana. This paper begins by setting the work of the BM against the background of Ghanaian
social structure at the advent of the BM on the Ghanaian scene. It then looks at the BM prior and
after the first World War. It highlights some of the major activities of the BM and look as some of
its legacies particularly in the area of language development and its implications for the
contemporary spiritual renewal taking place in Ghanaian Christianity.
TRADITIONAL SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF GHANA
Archaeological evidence indicates that there were settlements along the coast of Ghana as far back
as 30, 000 years ago. Around the 8th century AD, the earliest people settled along the present
Ghana.1 Portuguese were among the first European visitors to the West coast of Africa around the
15th century in search of Gold. They discovered enormous deposit of Gold (earning present-day
Ghana the name Gold Coast). As a result, many European nations, including the Danish, French,
Dutch and the English, built several forts which served as trading posts along the coast, some of
which still survive. Trade later developed into the Slave Trade, which continued until it was
abolished in the 19th century.
A study of the political history of Ghana between the 15th and 19th centuries gives a rather dismal
picture of rivalry among European traders and their governments in Ghana. They all sought to
monopolise trade and political power.
From the 15th century onwards, a number of independent states of varying size, power and wealth
emerged in Ghana. Examples are Fante, Ga, Akyem, Denkyira, Akwamu, Asante, Anlo and
Krobo. These states were engaged in interstate wars either to establish their independence or to
assert their supremacy. Such wars engendered formation of alliances between the independent
states and Europeans who promised to protect them against the attack of other states. The
Europeans took advantage of these alliances to get the states to sign various treaties which ensured
that they submitted themselves to the protection of these Europeans.
Meanwhile, the independent states had their own respective social structures which ensured a high
degree of self-sufficiency, security and harmonious existence. They had their own political
organizations which chiefs or traditional priest as their leaders. In states where they had
centralized political systems, they had a hierarchy of chiefs culminating in the paramount chief.
Ghanaian traditional politics and religion have always been inseparable because there is a
generally held belief that the gods and the world of spirits are the sources of political power.
See Richard Synge (ed.), ‘Ghana’ in Africa Guide (Essex: Africa Guide Co. 1977), p. 141.
Ghanaians had their own religious institution at the advent of the Basel missionaries. As a matter
of fact, the religious apprehension of Ghanaians was open to God. Ghanaians had and still has a
spirituality that is open and all embracing. For them, the spiritual is the inner reality of the material
world, and this is given religious expression in their daily activities. For them God is very
immanent and real and he is accordingly acknowledged in their primal religions as the creator, the
sustainer of the world and the dependable one. They have their own idea of salvation which
according to J.D.K. Ekem could be positively defined among Akans as:
…the maintenance of society´s equilibrium/holistic well-being through an appeal to the
supernatural with the aid of ceremonial rituals. Important among these are sacrificial rites for
propitiatory, expiatory and reconciliatory purposes. The supernatural powers usually work through
human channels who dramatize and interpret their wishes to supplicants using symbolic gestures.
Apart from the BM, other missionary bodies also operated in Ghana. They included, the Wesleyan
Missionary Society who arrived in 1835, the North German Missionary Society who arrived in
1847 as well as the Roman Catholic Mission which resumed work in Ghana in 1880 and the
Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) who also resumed work in Ghana in 1904. Other
missionary bodies were the Seventh Day Adventitst, 1898, the Baptist Mission, 1898 and
Salvation Army, 1911.
Islam was also making a major impact on the people. It started from the northern part of the
country through the influence of Fulani and Hausa Moslem traders. Islam spread to many parts of
the northern section of the country.
Similarly, Ghanaians had their own traditional non-formal educational, economic, and marriage
institutions which ensured harmonious living and continuity of society.
MISSIONARY ACTIVITIES IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA IN THE 19TH CENTURY.
In general during the 19th century most parts of the Sub-Saharan Africa witnessed an intensive
missionary activity due to developments in the European content. Among such changes were the
emergence of anti-slavery movement to counteract the trans-Atlantic slave trade which efforts
were made to abolish and replace it with legitimate trade which was perceived as more
advantageous to Europe 3 ; the evangelical revivals which engendered a deep passion for
evangelization of foreign lands which thus led to the formation of missionary societies;4 and a
burning desire among evangelicals to compensate Africa for the injustice done her through the
J.D.K. Ekem, Priesthood in Context, Hamburg, Verlag an der Lottbek, 1994, p. 35.
See C.P. Groves, The Planting of Christianity in Africa. Vol One to 1840 (London, 1948), pp.189-194; K. O. Dike,
Origins of the Niger Mission, 1841-1891, Ibadan 1962; pp. 4-5; J.F. Ade Ajayi (ed.), Africa in the 19th century until the
1880’s, General History of Africa, Vol. VI, p.66; S. Jakobson, Am I not a man and a brother? British Missions and the
abolition of the slave trade and slavery in West Africa and the West Indies. 1786-1838 (Uppsala, 1972), pp. 23-24,
refers to industrial and economic revolution in England as a factor that influenced the attitudinal change to slavery and
the slave trade.
S. Jakobsson, I am not a man and a brother?, pp.28-29; C.P. Groves, The Planting of Christianity in Africa, pp.
slave trade by providing social amenities and projects that were perceived to enhance their
well-being as a people.5
THE BASEL MISSION IN GHANA BEFORE THE WAR
The roots of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana (hereafter known as PCG) go back to the Basel
Evangelical Missionary Society later to be known as the Basel Mission (BM hereafter) in the Gold
Coast, which lasted in Ghana for 90 years, from 1828 to 1918. The first batch of missionaries to
the Gold Coast arrived at Christiansborg on 18 December 1828.
The BM was a collection of German and Swiss farmers and craftsmen and their essentially
middle-class spouses fired by a burning zeal for the cause applied themselves to the task of
spreading Christian teaching and to persuade the people of the Gold Coast, that the Pietist version
of Christianity was their best hope for the construction of a morally and materially better life.6
We can describe the fate of the early missionaries as dismal. It was ‘one of stubborn
determination on the one side, and tragedy on the other. Three times, at the beginning, in the late
1820s and 1830s, parties of missionaries were almost completely wiped out by illness.
Andreas Riis who was a member of the second batch, by God’s grace survived through the help of
a traditional herbalist and moved to Akropong-Akwapim in 1935. The climate was more
conducive for Riis but he laboured without realizing any tangible success. God in His wisdom
proved to the people of Akwapim that His light is universal (both for Europeans and Africans).
The BM was compelled to adopt a new strategy which saw the transfer of the first batch of 24
ex-African Christian slaves from Jamaica and Antigua to the Gold Coast to be part of the
missionary team at a time when the BM was deciding to give up their mission in the Gold Coast.
Their arrival in April 1843 and settling at Akropong marked the beginning of a new phase of BM
activity in the Gold Coast. The work of the BM saw a marked and steady progress both
horizontally (in terms of geographical expansion) and vertically in terms of depth – impact on the
religious social economic life of the people of the Gold Coast.
The breakthrough was made when a new generation of Basel Missionaries, their wives, the West
Indies and local Christians who served as interpreters, catechists, pastors and friends of the
missionaries (some of whom were chiefs and herbalist) joined forces to consolidate the mission.
This collaborative venture is a classic example of intercultural theology which is a pre-requisite for
successful and enduring mission.
Up to 1914, there was a high death-rate among the missionaries. 141 of them died in Ghana
between 1828 and 1913 – this figure excludes their children who also died in their numbers. The
worst frustrating crisis was the world war I which was declared in 1914 which initially restricted
the work until their eventual expulsion on 16 December 1917. But the encouraging fact is that, a
K. O. Dike, Origins of the Niger Mission, p.5; O.U. Kalu, ”Church Presence in Africa: a historical analysis of the
evangelization process”, in African Theology En Route, pp. 13-21…”, pp. 17-18.
Jon Miller, Missionary Zeal and Institutional Control, p. 33.
mission which started in a dismal and a precarious manner to the extent that the home mission
wanted to recall A. Riis, can be described as robust.
The breaking out of the First World War saw Britain and France dismantling German interests
abroad. Due to the close historic connections between the BM and German churches, the British
government imposed restriction on it, and eventually deported its missionaries of German
nationality in7 December 1917. This was a bitter pill for the Basel Mission as well as local
Christians who benefited from their labour to swallow. However, this was also to become an
advantage to the building of a formidable and sustainable local Christian Church administration.
Nevertheless, the BM left remarkable footprints on Ghanaian soil. More than any other
missionary society in Ghana, the BM made its mark in its introduction of socio-economic projects
like plantation farms, roads and schools (both literary and vocational education) as well as the
development of local languages and human resources. These projects and achievements have left
a lasting impact on the PCG and Ghana as a whole. The PCG proudly continued to identify itself
with the BM by calling themselves in the Twi language, Baselfoo and the BM church was casually
referred to as Basel Asore. 8
The BM played a significant role in the emancipation of the Gold Coast from colonial domination.
The BM had an aim of raising up educated Africans to take charge of future missionary work and
of inculcating in them the virtues of hard and honest labour, discipline yielded good dividends.
More than any other missionary society, the BM is noted for its introduction of socio-economic
projects, scientific farming, social amenities, roads, and schools as well as language study.
Noel Smith aptly summarises the achievements of the BM enterprise in the country as follows:
In education and in agriculture in artisan training and in the development of commerce, in medical
services and in concern for the social welfare of the people, the name ‘Basel’, by the time of the
expulsion of the Mission from the country, had become a treasure word in the minds of the people
During the 150th anniversary of the PCG, Fred Agyemang, a Ghanaian Presbyterian author
corroborated Noel Smith’s observation by noting with pride that:
We Presbyterians produced the first Speaker in the nation’s parliament, five university
vice-chancellors, one President of our Republic, one of the two first District Commissioners, the
first government hospital nurse, the first scholarship awarded… for overseas study, the first two
Ghanaian secretaries to Cabinet, the first Ghanaian commercial air-pilot, the first woman lawyer
and judge, two deans of the medical school, the first woman religious minister, the first
commissioner of police, the first Army officers, the first inspector-general of police, the first
In Ghana, about 70% of the Basel Missionaries were of German origin.
‘Baselfoo’ literally means ‘Basel People’, and ‘Basel Asore’ is an unofficial name for the Church founded by BM
which means ‘Basel Church’. Up till now the name `Baselfoo` is synonymous with the Presbyterian Church of Ghana,
especially among the elderly.
Noel Smith, The Presbyterian Church of Ghana,, 1835-1960, P. 159.
woman veterinary surgeon, and the first head student of the University of the Gold Coast.10 (Fred
Agemang, We Presbyterians, p. 8).
There is not doubt that the above achievements were largely the outcome of the labour of the BM.
I believe if we were to update these achievements by products of the PCG we shall have a tall
impressive list of even more remarkable exploits. The BM certainly had a major impact on Ghana
as an agent of social change, it was indeed an important factor in the emergence of modern
Evidence that the PCG valued the role of the BM in its development and the growth of the
Ghanaian state are two significant gestures made by the Synod of the PCG in 1920 and 1922.
Firstly, In 1920, the Synod decided to ”write to the Basel Missionary Society heartily thanking
them for their noble work done for the church on the Gold Coast”.11 A more significant evidence
was yet to come in 1922.
The war brought in its trail severe economic depression in Europe and reports reached the PCG
that former missionaries had their share of the financial strain at home.12 As a result the Synod
Committee of the PCG decided to levy each female member 2s and every male member, 5s which
amounted to £500 by July 1923 and was sent to Basel Mission for distribution. A letter signed by
Rev. H. Burckhadt, President and Rev. W. Oettli, Secretary was sent by the BM to acknowledge
receipt of the money and to thank the PCG as follows: ”your donation was especially valuable to
us also as a testimony of lover and attachment of the members of the church on the Gold Coast to
their old missionaries.”13 A second donation of £525 15s was sent to the missionaries in 1924
which was again acknowledged by Rev. Oettli who also informed the Synod Committee that the
situation had improved so the donations was not more necessary.14 These gestures are significant
in the sense that they point to the legacy of mutual sharing which the BM left behind in Ghana.
In 1926 the Basil Missionaries returned to what would now become a collaborative venture with
their immediate successors. The 2 missions, Basel and Scottish Presbyterians worked together
into the Presbyterian Church of Gold coast--a transition that was fraught with difficulty. In 1930,
after a fundamental revision of the Church’s constitution, the Synod Committee, which comprised
a significant African representation became the legal trustees of the church’s properties. In 1950
Africans took over full leadership of the schools.
I want to pick the following significant issues emerging from the role of the BM in the history of
the PCG - from the pre-war to the post-war period for further discussion.
1. Administrative Structure
Fred Agyemang, We Presbyterians, (Accra: Presbyterian Press, P.8).
The Scottish Mission, Minutes of Synod, 1920, p. 22, Min. 19, cited by Charles Gyang Duah, The Scottish Mission
Factor in the Development of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana: 1917-1957
Charles Gyang Duah, The Scottish Mission Factor in the Development of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana:
See Minutes of Synod Committee of the Presbyterian Church of the Gold Coast, 4 th-6th December, 1923, pp. 84-85.
See Minutes of the Synod Committee, 16th December, 1924.
2. Vernacular based church
4. Spiritual Renewal
ADMINISTRATIVE STRUCTURES OF THE CHURCH
The Church was organized around 11 circuits which were further put under the following 3
districts headed by BM staff: The Ga-Adangme (comprings Osu, Abokobi, Ada, and
Krobo-Odumase); The Twi Eastern district made up of Aburi, Akropong and Anum and Twi
Western district which was made up of Nsaba, Begoro, Abetifi and Kumase. 15 Elders were
appointed to assist the missionaries. The whole mission field was directly under the oversight of a
Mission Council who sent regular reports to the Mission Board in Basel that effectively took all
decisions for the mission field.
The Ghanaian Christian leaders fought against what they perceived as a totalitarian rule of the BM
and agitated for more participation in the decision making process of the church. For instance,
there were attempts of breakaways spearheaded by one Emmanuel Osabute at Ada in 1881.
Similarly a group of Christians demonstrated against was they called ”…tyranny of the laws and
regulations of the Basel Mission” at Abokobi.16
The BM was compelled to involve indigenous Christians in the decision making process. Some of
the efforts were orgainizing the whole mission field under 2 synods; the Twi synod and the
Ga-Adangme Synod which held separate synods in 1909 at Aburi and Krobo Odumase
respectively. The BM to its dismay realized this arrangement was a recipe for agitations against
their administrative arrangements. The Twi district also resolved that local people are made to
take their own decisions. Some aspects of the resolution written by Rev. J. Boateng reads as
A point which …engaged our attention is how in spite of the hopeful progress, work is sometimes
checked in its advanced by the serious loss and drawbacks…how the agents and the congregation
need especially their own Native Committee who knows and understands them to see to their own
internal affairs…This has for many years been the cry of many of us that a motion asking the
recognition of such a committee receive unanimous consent.17
The response of the BM was that, local agents were not mature enough to be involved in decision
making so that process must proceed slowly for some decades. As a result they stopped the
Synod meetings and continued with their paternalistic policy. The BM promoted this unfortunate
paternalistic system of church administration, which did not involve local people directly in
church administration. Nevertheless, in their leadership style, the BM demonstrated the Reformed
idea of democratic church government which prepared the grounds for the United Free Church of
Scotland which took up the administration of the orphaned church after the war to change the
system by involving the indigenous people more in administration and to be more responsible for
their own affairs. Thus the Scottish Mission only built on the foundation laid by the BM.
Basel Mission Report, 1900, pp. 5-8
Debrunner, Abokobi and the Basel Mission, G.N.A., Accra EC6/1, p. 12.
Report of the Conference of Native Agents in Twi District belonging to the Basel Mission held at Kyebi in 1909,
THE PROVERBIAL PRESBYTERIAN DISCIPLINE
In this day age everybody looks up to the Presbyterian Church to for solution to the problem of
indiscipline in Ghana. This is because in the history of the PCG it is identified as a group of
people having an ethos of hard work, honesty and discipline. This is clearly, a nostalgic reference
to BM mission ethos and discipline which continued in the PCG. But nobody seems to look for the
historical ingredients that manifested itself as discipline. In other words being Presbyterian does
not automatically mean that you are disciplined. For me as a historian my pre-occupation is to go
back to the roots of ”Presbyterian Discipline”.
It is intricably linked with the Pietistic ethos which put much weight on the centrality of the Bible
and emphasis on personal knowledge of Christ and its application in ones daily life. In other words
in a religiously pluralistic society, if you keep on telling people to read less and practice less of the
Bible then you have no point in asking them to apply Biblical discipline which underpins the
Presbyterian discipline that we the nation is yearning for.
Essentially, what I mean is that when we are calling for Presbyterian discipline then we are saying
the Bible is to be re-instated in our church, schools and society. We are then asking people to love
and serve Christ who is the light of the world and the model of our type of disciple. This is the BM
heritage, which could be appropriated in the contemporary context.
Unlike the Methodist for example, the BM had a clearly stated policy of establishing
‘vernacular-based churches’ among the various ethnic groups in Ghana. In fact the BM has credit
for being the pioneer in literary work in the vernaculars in Ghana particularly in Twi and Ga. They
ephasised the learning of the vernaculars in all Basel Mission schools. Rev. J. Zimmerman
translated the Bible into Ga, wrote a Ga bible disctionary and also wrote a Ga grammar and a Ga
The monumental work done by Rev. J.G. Christaller who translated the bible into Akuapen Twi,
collected 3000 Twi proverbs and also compiled a Twi dictionary which is still regarded as standard
work in Ghana is still outstanding.19 His main aim for collecting the proverbs was to enable the
Basel Missionaries have an insight into the Twi language and culture.
Here the BM pursued the belief, traceable to Luther and all the early Reformers and Protestant
mission, who were convinced that an individual’s mother tongue is the only proper medium for the
insight that produces conversion and salvation. The rediscovery of the pivotal role of the
vernacular which attended the 16th century Reformation and its subsequent renewal in intellectual
and spiritual life and activity in Europe can partly attributed to the European rediscovery and
repossession of the Gospel through European vernacular languages.
Against this backdrop, Basel Missionaries such as Christaller and Zimmerman with the assistance
of their local agents devoted themselves to the study the vernacular and culture of the people in
order to understand them better. They concentrated on the Akan and Ga-Adangme ethnic groups
Ralph M. Wiltgen: Gold Coast Mission, 1471-1880, Illinois, 1956, p.110.
The University of Paris honoured him with medals for his outstanding works, See Basel Mission on the Gold Coast,
which in fact served as a tool for the extension and consolidation of the work of the BM. Thus the
emphasis on the use of vernacular became a marked feature of the BM work in Ghana. The mother
tongue policy was contrary to the approach of local colonial governments, who wanted the locals
to learn European languages, to make sure they would easily adjust to western ways of living.
The use of vernacular somehow affirmed the African culture and served as an important step
towards the indigenization of the Christian faith in Ghana. Kwame Bediako has asserted and
rightly so that:
Accordingly, in the African Christianity of the post-missionary era, the extent to which a church
can be said to possess a viable heritage of Christian tradition in its indigenous language is the extent
of that church´s ability to offer an adequate interpretation of reality and a satisfying intellectual
framework for African life.
For the PCG, this has meant repossessing the heritage of the BM in order to enhance and develop
it.21 The legacy of the vernacular Scripture left behind by the BM in Ghana is a major contributory
factor for the massive growth of Christianity in Ghana, particularly among Akan and Gas of Ghana
who very early had their vernaculars reduced into writing mainly because they understood the
Gospel in their own languages and took it seriously.22 The legacy of the BM in Ghana is therefore
a vivid illustration of Kwame Bediako´s observation that: ”African Christianity in the twentieth
century, therefore, far from signifying an acute Westernisation of African life, may rather be the
evidence of how much African peoples feel at home in the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.23 We shall
revisit this point in our discussion of spiritual renewal in the PCG below.
The PCG has over the years continued the policy of building vernacular churches. However, while
the BM developed the Twi and Ga languages as a clear policy and strategy, later PCG workers
have not done enough with other ethnic groups in new mission fields. For instance there has not
been enough work done on the translation of the Bible, liturgy books and hymnbooks in newer
ethnic groups. It is therefore not surprising that the PCG is seen by some ethnic groups as a
‘foreign church’ and converts of such newer groups sometimes feel marginalized. The PCG has
not gone far in its policy of establishing a truly national church which is not just an extension of
Twi and Ga ethnic churches. The PCG is gradually abandoning her policy of meeting the language
needs of ethnic groups within which it works thereby not pursuing the indigenization legacy of its
founding fathers and this has implication for effective evangelization and renewal in new mission
fields of the Church.
THE EVANGELICAL HERITAGE
As it is well known, the BM was first and foremost influenced by a strong German Protestant
Pietism, particularly from the state of Wurttemberg, South Germany that produced a bulk of its
leadership. Pietism among other things had a strong commitment to the centrality of the Bible in
the life of the Christian and the Church; a strong emphasis on the importance of `personal
conversion´ to Christ and individual piety; a strong Christian fellowship; a keen sense of prayer
and particularly a keen sense of mission and evangelism.
Christianity in Africa, p. 61.
C.f. John Mbiti, Bible and Theology in African Christianity, (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1986).
Ibid. p. 62.
This strong Pietistic ethos of the BM in no doubt continue to be revisited by sections of the
membership of the PCG who seek spiritual renewal of the Church. The PCG, which stands in
historical succession of the BM, inherited a tradition that had a firm belief in the centrality and the
authority of the Bible. Its commitment to the Bible is symbolically demonstrated by the large
Bible, which is carried in a procession at key functions of the Church. Older members of the
church fondly remember the tradition of Friday prayer meetings, Sunday evening Bible studies
and Wednesday evening open-air evangelistic preaching which was left by the BM.
SIGNIFICANCE OF BM FOR SPIRITUAL RENEWAL IN THE PCG
The BM is an example of missionary bodies that operated in Ghana which failed to enter into a
meaningful constructive dialogue with traditional Ghanaian cultures and religions. Consequently,
most Ghanaian Christians were unable to reconcile their worldview with the type of Christianity
that was professed.
The result of this is the regular reports by the BM to the effect that converts resorted to traditional
religions and consulted traditional priest in times of crises. For instance children were dedicated to
the traditional priests as found in the following report ”…They are mostly entangled in the
deceitfulness of fetish worship; they make it a point to dedicated their children to the fetish right
from conception; they are the ones who plunge their children into evil…”24
In Labadi in Accra for instance the traditional deity for the people of Labadi called La Kpa was
held in very high esteem, by the people. The BM for instance worked in Labadi for over 40 years
without any convert because of the great influence of this deity on the people there. As a result
even those who became Christians were afraid to be baptized at Labadi so they had to be baptized
outside Labadi in order to avoid being found out.25 This led Rev. E. Shrenk of BM who worked at
Labadi to describe the place as ”chief stronghold of fetishism” and Rev. Robert F. Mante also
described the town as ”fortress of the devil and second to none as a fearful fetish town.”.26
The case of Labadi was just one instance of the generalized trend of the stronghold that traditional
deities had on the people within their jurisdiction, who were afraid themselves to break away from
them because they were not sure Christianity could offer a reliable alternative. Meanwhile they
were conscious of the fact that Christianity did not address some of their pressing existential needs
such as need for healing and protection from perceived evil forces. Professor K.A. Busia, an
eminent Ghanaian sociologist and Methodist lay preacher articulated this concern as follows:
Those who have been responsible for the propagation of the Christian gospel in other lands and
cultures have not shown sufficient awareness of the need for an encounter between the Christian
religion and the cosmology of the peoples outside European culture and traditions. It is this which
has made Christianity either alien or superficial or both.27
J.G. Widmann, EMM heft 4 (1852) pp.237 and 239 Translated from the German original by courtesy of Dr. J.D.K.
See Labadi Presbyterian Church Centenary brochure, p.7
See Labadi Centenary Brochure, ibid
K. A. Busia, `Has the Christian faith been adequately represented?` International Review of Mission, 50, (1963) ,
The emergence of the African Instituted Churches (AICs) was discerned by scholars as
movements that seek to renew African Christianity and make it more relevant to the African
context. The AICs seem to have made the logical connection that if African Christians were to
abandon their traditional deities then Christianity should be able to answer the questions that their
worldview was asking. Thus they made provision for worship in the African style, prayer for
healing and exorcism, prayer for protection and made room for gift of the Holy Spirit which are
mentioned in the Bible to be manifested in their worship. This caused a major exodus of Christians
from the mainline churches including the Presbyterian Church of Ghana to the AICs.
There was a major movement in the PCG called the Bible Study and Prayer Group (BSPG) which
was convinced about two major facts. In the first place, they felt they did not have to go outside the
Presbyterian Church in order to experience the Holy Spirit and to have solution to their problems.
They felt there were enough resources in the Bible to enable them meet all those needs just as the
AICs were trying to do. Secondary, they recounted instances in the ministry of the BM which
pointed to the fact that they devoted themselves to intense prayer which resulted in what they
called miraculous and instantaneous results. For instance oral history made references to case of
miraculous rains pouring after intense prayer by some agents of BM as a well as recorded history
of a BM agent, Edward Sampson raising a dead boy from death by prayer. These two arguments
gave members of the BSPG impetus to engage in spiritual renewal programmes similar to that of
the AICs and this stemmed the tide of exodus to the AICs to a large extent.
The BSPG gives hope for mainline/missionary founded Christianity in Africa in general. Just like
the AICs, it uses the Bible to provide answers to issues raised by their worldview. Bediako has
rightly observed that:
The state of the churches in their relation to the traditional worldview presents a rather paradoxical
picture: the churches which have a longer historical connection with the society, and a profound
vernacular heritage, appear to be less effective in meeting the spiritual and psychological needs of
their members for most of whom the traditional world-view continues as a potent element in their
understanding of reality. The explanation for this paradox also lies partly in the failure of churches
to avail themselves of their vernacular heritage and to enhance it in the interest of a continuing
dialogue with their local cultures”
Nevertheless, the BSPG is an exception to this general observation. The movement is noted for its
thirst for the Bible and a strong conviction that the Bible is reliable since it is God´s own divinely
inspired word. As a result it has a number of Bible study material for the use of members. Their
Bible studies normally focus on Bible passages and themes that throw light on matters such as
salvation, the Holy Spirit, spiritual warfare, healing, and deliverance.
Through their Bible studies and activities, the BSPG has attempted to meet the vital needs of their
members. Reading vernacular Bible has enabled them to respond to issues affecting them in their
own terms. They have made efforts to appropriate the inherited Christian message and spirituality
to suit the Ghanaian primal worldview. They have, therefore, made an effort at the
contextualization of Christianity by way of interpreting Christian truth and applying it to real-life
issues and religious patterns within the Ghanaian socio-cultural milieu. The BSPG thus has
created an avenue that enable participants to express their deepest religious longings within the
K. Bediako, Christianity in Africa, p. 68.
Presbyterian church of Ghana, hence their appeal. Thus Kwame Bediako discerning the new
developments within the mainline churches has noted that
The distinctions between the historical churches of missionary origins, and the independents or
African instituted churches, have since become less meaningful, as features which were once
thought to be characteristic of the latter have been found to be shared also by the former.
The BSPG uses mainly vernacular in their meetings, and for that matter they use the vernacular
Bible in their studies. It is significant to note that the group is strongest in Akan and Ga-Adangme
areas of the PCG. These are areas which has a long tradition of vernacular heritage thus appear to
be more effective in engaging the traditional worldview of their members and responding to their
spiritual and psychological needs. Areas without long traditions of the vernacular Bible do not
usually have strong BSPGs as well as AICs, mainly because they do not have the advantage of the
vernacular Bible as basis to be engaged in a serious dialogue with their worldview.
The BM has made a deep impression on Ghanaians. There is no gainsaying the fact that they made
immense contribution towards the history, culture and development of Ghana. The BM will
always be remembered for its sound foundation it laid for vernacular, academic and vocational
education, the impetus it gave to Ghana´s drive towards self-determination, social services,
agriculture and trade.
However the failure of the BM to sympathize with and to constructively relate to the indigenous
beliefs about the spiritual realities that underpin the traditional worldview of Ghanaian cultures
within which they worked did not enable them realize the desired results of their labour.
Nevertheless, their emphasis on Ghanaian vernacular languages which led to the translation of the
Bible into Twi and Ga is the lasting legacy of the BM in Ghana. The BM also left behind a legacy
of evangelical spirituality. These two legacies have been the bases for the kind of spiritual renewal
that the BSPG seeks Thus they constantly argue that their activities are not extrenous nor exotic by
referring to the heritage of the BM as their basis.30 It is therefore not surprising that the PCG was
the first mainline church in Ghana to formally recognize a renewal movement-the BSPG within its
framework in 1966, because spiritual renewal is part of its heritage. We can therefore say that the
BSPG is the product of the BM-and in so doing the PCG is only going back to its Piestistic roots.
And its Reformed maxim: Reformata Semper Reformanda – ”the Church is renewed and shall
always be renewed”
The fact is, church history abounds with renewal movements that end up breaking away sometimes
I think such schisms are inevitable, but I also believe most of these breakaways are unnecessary
and have rather been the bane or scandal for mission in our part of the world. The famous mission
historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette, believes that the Holy Spirit propels church history by ever
causing renewals, which in turn ever introduce new organizations.31 These new organizations
It must be pointed out however that the spirituality of the BM-which is more Evangelical is different from that of
the BSPG which combines Evangelicalism with Pentecostal/Charismatic spirituality. It is noteworthy though that in
Africa one can hardly dichotomize Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism.
K.S. Latourette, History and the Expansion of Christianity, 7 vols. (Grand Rapid: Zondervan 1970).
provide resources to the church in different contexts, to enable it to adapt to cultural, religious, and
social challenges. The renewal groups must be seen in this light hence their relevance.