Glance at African Christians

Lagos, Nigeria - Are they uniquely African, traditional Christian or both?

This is what religion experts are asking about the teachings of the nondenominational churches from Africa, where Christianity became a major force over the last century.

The churches cover a wide spectrum of belief and worship, but many are either Pentecostal/charismatic or are heavily influenced by that Christian movement.

Pentecostalism began in the United States 100 years ago and embraces spirit-filled worship, miracles, speaking in tongues and spiritual healing.

Its followers are biblical conservatives, who see the devil behind calamities both global -- such as war -- and personal -- such as childlessness.

But some African Christians still cling to indigenous traditions.

Witchcraft is an example. African Christians do not practice witchcraft, but some see it as another manifestation of the devil, something that can be fought through intensive prayer.

A smaller number also continue to venerate their ancestors in addition to believing in Jesus Christ.

The Redeemed Christian Church of God emphasizes it is wholly Christian -- not some mix of African and Christian beliefs.

Still, Americans and Europeans may be alienated by its leader's annual prophecies from God, which are vague but touch on international issues as well as spiritual life.

The Nigerian church also may draw objections over its linking of the Bible and personal success.

Redeemed Church pastors insist they do not promote ''Prosperity Gospel,'' which teaches that donating to the church and living like a true Christian will bring wealth and other earthly rewards. However, the Nigerian church heavily emphasizes God's desire for personal achievement.

Philip Jenkins, author of the book ''The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity,'' cautions against dismissing African Christianity as outside the bounds of the faith. He says most of the differences between Western and African Christians are cultural not theological, and derive from different ways of reading the Bible.