Zionist Churches are a group of Christian denominations that sprang from the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion, Illinois. Missionaries from the church came to South Africa in 1904 and among their first recruits were Pieter Louis le Roux of Wakkerstroom and Daniel Nkonyane of Charlestown, who continued to evangelise after the Zionist missionaries left in 1908.
The church is unrelated to the Jewish political movement of Zionism.
Zionist beliefs grew out of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth religious missions to southern Africa. In particular the churches owe their origins to the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church of John Alexander Dowie, based in Zion, Illinois in the United States.
A Zionist church was founded in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1895; however, the church quickly integrated into indigenous southern African life, and had an entirely African leadership within twenty years of its founding.
Schisms and succession disputes during the twentieth century led to the foundation of thousands of different congregations, of which the largest is the Zion Christian Church, with around 3 million followers, led by Barnabas Lekganyane.
Characteristics of Zionist churches
Zionist churches are characterised by the following features:
- Use of faith-healing and revelation through dreams
- "Jordan" baptism, in rivers
- Ritual garments, often mostly white, and prophetic staffs.
- Food taboos, such as not eating pork.
- Some smaller denominations worship in the open air, and practise "wheel" dances—dancing in circles, sometimes to the beat of drums.
- Some denominations accept polygamy.
- Some denominations show syncretic mixing of Christian and traditional African religious beliefs
- Anderson, Allan (2000). Zion and Pentecost: the spirituality and experience of Pentecostal and Zionist/Apostolic Churches in South Africa. Pretoria: University of South Africa Press. ISBN 1-86888-143-1.
- Christianity in Africa South of the Sahara — Dr. Neil Lettinga
- Oosthuizen, G., 1996. "African Independent/Indigenous Churches in the Social Environment: An Empirical Analysis"; Africa Insight, 26 (4).
- Sundkler, Bengt (1961). Bantu Prophets in South Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- African Independent Churches
- AIC discussion forum
- World Council of Churches on African Instituted Churches
- Bethel Page