Egyptian Church History
Christianity found its way to Egypt in the 1st Century, most likely with John Mark, the author of the second canonical Gospel which carries his name. According to early church tradition, he was murdered in Alexandria. Egypt continued to play a significant role as one of the most strategic centres of Christianity, known for the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, which flourished in the ancient Alexandria School of Theology, and for the early church fathers, Clement of Alexandria and Origen. During the fourth century, another Egyptian church father, Athanasius, was the voice of the Nicene Theology that defended the divinity of Christ against Arianism in the First Council of Nicaea AD 325.
Sadly, as the Christological debates over the two natures of Christ continued into the fifth century, particularly after the Egyptian (Coptic) church rejected the Chalcedonian creed in 451, Christianity in Egypt slowly started losing its influence on the ‘one apostolic and catholic church.’ In AD 641-645, probably as a result of the Christological debates that dramatically developed into a battle between the non-Chalcedonian Coptic church and the Byzantine church, who was Chalcedonian and persecuted the Coptic Christians as heretics, the Arabs took advantage of this chaotic situation and invaded Egypt. The Egyptian church sadly lost its prominence in the history of Christianity, and became isolated due to its struggle with the successive Muslim caliphates, who persecuted the church until the number of Christians dropped to 12-15 % of the whole population.
With the active missionary movements of the 19th century, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and other missionaries found their way to Egypt. Missionaries representing different denominations in the USA, UK, and Europe gained a foothold in the country. Yet, for various reasons, the Presbyterian church got the upper hand among Protestant denominations, because the government wanted to deal with one institution. Presbyterians head an alliance representing the numerous Protestant churches and became the umbrella for all Protestant organizations in Egypt. The three main divisions are: the Coptic Church (almost 90% 0f all Egyptian Christians), the Protestant churches (around 1.5 million), and finally the Catholic church (a little less than the Protestants).
Doctrinal Challenges; Some question the success of the 16th century reformation in extending its roots in the Egyptian soil. Sadly, the impact of many modern mission organizations, with their poor focus on biblical teaching, has often spawned a craving for authority and a tendency to be divisive on trivial matters. The Protestant denominations are now fragmented, and the Egyptian spiritual soil could easily accept heretical teachings. The ‘prosperity gospel’ and liberal theology are currently the two greatest challenges.
Challenges Related to the so-called Arab Spring, and its aftermath; The younger generations are losing trust and interest in the institutional church, who did not do a good job during the two-wave revolution in 2011-2014. First, with regard to changing their political views, initially supporting the old regime and later hailing the revolutionists! Second, the church’s perceived failure to answer questions related to the problem of evil and the existence of God. Worst of all, there is a tendency to mix philosophy and anthropology with the pure teaching of the Gospel of our Lord.
Among the current generation, God, in His gracious providence, has kept a remnant of godly young people who are passionate to reclaim the Gospel the Reformers taught. This new awakening in Egypt among Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Baptists alike is still young and needs humility, wisdom, and self-denial in order that conservative seminaries and publishing ministries work to glorify the LORD and avoid the unhealthy sense of competition or secondary issues that distract and divide God’s people. Finally, and most importantly, prayers are urgently needed so that we can see biblical, healthy, local churches being planted, to provide pasture for God’s scattered and hungry sheep, and to send missionaries to other Middle Eastern countries as well.