P'ent'ay (Ethiopian-Eritrean Evangelicalism)

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P'ent'ay (from Amharic: ጴንጤ, also transliterated as Pentay or Pente, also known as Ethiopian/Eritrean Evangelicalism, [...] Evangelical Church, or an English-language equivalent: Evangelical Protestantism within Christianity)[1][2][3][4][5] is originally an Amharic-Tigrinya language term for a Christian of a Protestant denomination, widely used in Ethiopia and among Ethiopians and Eritreans living abroad as a term for Evangelical Christians.

P'ent'ay (ጴንጤ)
[...] Evangelical Church
Evangelical Church Fellowship of Ethiopia (emblem).gif
TypeEastern-Western Christianity [nb 1]
OrientationEvangelical: Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Mennonite
ScriptureHoly Bible (Christian Bible)
PolityCongregationalist and Presbyterian polity
FoundersFrumentius (328 AD Axum)

Philip the Evangelist (Acts 8:26-39 "via Ethiopian eunuch of Kush")
Mark the Evangelist (42 AD via Alexandria)

Protestant Reformation (Ethiopia: 19th-20th C. AD via missionaries)
Associationsአብያተ ክርስቲያናት ('Abiate Kristianat')
Evangelical Church Fellowship of Ethiopia (ECFC)
RegionEthiopia, Eritrea, United States, Norway, Kenya, Canada, Germany, United Kingdom, Israel, Ethiopian-Eritrean Diaspora
LanguageOromo, Amharic, Wolayta Sidama, Tigrinya, Languages of Ethiopia, Languages of Eritrea, and Ethiopian-Eritrean Diaspora Languages (e.g. English, Norwegian, Hebrew, German)
Ethiopian Empire:
(present day Ethiopia and Eritrea)
Other name(s)Ethiopian Evangelical Church, Eritrean Evangelical Church, Oromo Evangelical Church, Ethiopian Evangelicalism, (Evangelicalism, Protestant)
Official websiteOfficial ECFE website (english)


The term was coined in the late 1960s and was used as a pejorative for churches that believed in the Pentecostal experience and Spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today, it is used to describe local Protestant Christians who are not members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo churches (collectively known as Orthodox Tewahedo). The term P'ent'ay is a shortening of the word "Pentecostal"; however, it is widely used when referring to all Protestant Christians but especially Evangelical Christians whether they are actually Pentecostal by denomination or not.[6] Some Orthodox will also apply the term to the small Catholic population of Ethiopia and Eritrea (but this is rare). The equivalent rendition in many other languages is Evangelical. Many of these groups describe their religious practices as culturally Eastern Christian, but Protestant and Evangelical by doctrine.[7]


The four major Evangelical denominations in Ethiopia are a group of indigenous closely linked (part of the Amharic: አብያተ ክርስቲያናት, romanized'Abiate kristianat' -- 'ābiyate kirisitīyanati' or community of churches) Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Mennonite denominations called:

The Four Main DenominationsEdit

(Mainline Churches)

Some P'ent'ay communities - especially the Mekane Yesus Lutheran Church for example - have been influenced by the Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which represents the dominant traditional Ethiopian and Eritrean Christianity, but for the most part are very Pentecostal in their worship and theology.

Some of the aforementioned denominations also have counterparts in Eritrea (Protestantism in Eritrea) with exact or similar names that existed prior to the partition of Ethiopia and Eritrea, (a majority of these denominations are under persecution in Eritrea for their beliefs and have been cut off from their sister churches in Ethiopia and international Christian organizations).[8]

The P'ent'ay label may be an indication of the apparent prominence of the Pentecostal denomination at some point in the history of Ethiopian Evangelicalism, even though many other branches such as Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Mennonites also have a similarly wide presence.[9]

Smaller denominationsEdit

Unity and the ECFEEdit

ECFE, or Evangelical Church Fellowship of Ethiopia, is a consortium of born-again, Trinitarian Christians.[10] ECFC has 22 member churches, and based on 2004 statistics, 11.5 million members with an increase of 4 million annually.[11] All P'ent'ay churches, regardless of denomination, are domestically known as አብያተ ክርስቲያናት ('Abiate kristianat' or 'ābiyate kirisitīyanati') meaning 'churches' in the senses of a 'community of Christians' in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Most of these churches also operate ministries, colleges and bible societies like the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, Golden Oil Ministries, Evangelical Theological College, the Ethiopian Bible Society and Meserete Kristos College.[12] These churches often work together by exchanging preachers and organizing church conferences.


According to the 2005 statistics from the World Christian Database, Ethiopian Pentecostal/Charismatic members cover a bit over 16 percent of the country as P'ent'ays of Ethiopia. The individual groups are the Word of Life Church (Kale Heywet) Church, Mekane Yesus, Churches of Christ, Misgana Church of Ethiopia, Assembly of God, Hiwot Berhan Church, Emnet Kristos, Meserete Kristos, Light of Life Church, Mulu Wongel (Full Gospel Believers Church) and other churches constituting slightly over 12 million P'ent'ays in Ethiopia.[13] However, according to World Christian Encyclopedia, the Evangelical community is down to only 13.6% of Ethiopian population.[14][15] According to the 1994 government census, Protestant Christians comprise 10% of the population (about 7-8 million today).[16] According to membership and adherent records provided by the various churches and denominations, Ethiopian Protestants claim as high as 18.59% of the country's population which is inline with the recent data from the US department of state.[17][18]


Evangelicals in Ethiopia believe that one is saved by believing in Jesus as Lord and Saviour for the forgiveness of sins. They believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the one essence of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19-20, also Psalms 2:7, Mark 9:7, Luke 22:29, Luke 3:22). Like all other Christian churches that accept the Gospels, P'ent'ays also believe in being "born again" (dagem meweled), as it is written numerous times in the Gospel of John, and demonstrated by one's baptism in the Holy Spirit as well as water baptism, speaking in tongues is one of the signs,[citation needed] but not the only sign, of "receiving Christ", which should include a new lifestyle and social behavior.

Although almost all Evangelical branches in Ethiopia have one or two theological differences or different approaches in the interpretation of the Bible, all of the four major branches follow the beliefs common to born-again Christians of the world. The four major denominations also exchange pastors (megabi) and allow the preachers to serve in different churches when invited (full communion). All of the four main churches and others also share and listen to various gospel singers, mezmur (gospel music or hymn) producers and choirs.


Modern Ethiopian Evangelicals are the result of missionary work, the work of the Holy Spirit among Orthodox Church youth who left the Orthodox Tewahedo church because of theological differences, and later fanned by persecution against them. P'ent'ay Evangelical Christians separated from the Orthodox Tewahedo Churches, other branches of Christianity, or converted from other religions with the aid of Protestant missionaries to reform Ethiopian Christianity from doctrinal-theological diversions and to spread the Gospel to unreached populations.

P’ent’ay Evangelical Churches mostly made up of Charismatic Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Mennonite denominations have Biblical interpretation on theological doctrines that differ from the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and in certain cases other Protestant denominations. The Ethiopian Evangelical churches claims origins from Philip the Evangelist. (The dominant Orthodox Church has claimed its earliest origins from the Ethiopian royal official said to have been baptized by Philip in Acts 9 .) However, every branch of the Evangelical community, including Mekane Yesus & Qale Hiywet, has its own unique beginning both in Ethiopia (19th-20th centurie renewal) and their counterparts in Europe and North America (10th-17th centurie réformations and beyond).

For the most part, Evangelical Ethiopian Christians state that their form of Christianity is both the reformation of the current Orthodox Tewahedo church as well as the restoration of it to the original Ethiopian Christianity. They believe Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity was paganized after the 960s, during the reign of queen Gudit, who destroyed & burned most of the church's possessions and scriptures.[19] Thus they claim those events have led to the gradual paganization of the Orthodox church which they claim is now merely dominated by rituals, hearsay and fables.[20] Evangelical Christians use the alleged "secularized teaching" of the current Orthodox Tewahido church, the alleged inability of most Orthodox followers to live according to the instructions of the Bible and the extra-biblical books used by rural priests, as a proof to their belief in the Orthodox Tewahido teaching is also mainly syncretized. P'ent'ay Christians use the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity prior to the 1960s as their own history.

As it organized in the 4th century, within the Ethiopian Aksumite Kingdom, the Christian church grew more influential. Thus according to Ethiopian historical texts, its association with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church strengthened. During this period, most Ethiopians followed the Septuagint bible including all of the 'Deuterocanonical books' for a total of 81. Meanwhile, the Councils of Bishops in the Roman Empire following Constantine followed the Old Testament canon that had been established by the Sanhedrin at Yavne in c. 80, paring the total down to only 66 books.[citation needed] These customs kept all devout Christians together and in sync for several decades. But later, a contradiction in interpretation led to a less-known clash between those Christians who accepted the canon of other Churches, rejecting the Deuterocanon of the Septuagint. According to historical literature from the Addis Ababa Mulu Wongel Church, Ethiopian devout Christians who did not approve of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church got exposed to the Evangelical movements occurring in Europe in the 16th and 17th century. With growing dispute on the additional texts of the Orthodox Church, the alleged changing of the original meanings of the Bible did little to decrease the attendance of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. However, it was only during the early 20th century that American and European missionaries spread Protestantism with Mennonite and Pentecostal Churches through the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM). When SIM continued its movement after a brief ban during Ethiopia's war with Italy, it is written that the missionaries were taken aback by the fruits of their initial mission. Protestant Christians still face persecution in rural regions; however, there is a growing tolerance between the Ethiopian Orthodox, Muslims and the growing population of P'en'tay Christians in the urban areas of the country. According to Adherents.com, the Pentecostal population is growing quickly with even faster rates in the third world countries.[citation needed] Yet, with the dominance of the Ethiopian Orthodox church and the growing Muslim population, the population of P'en'tay Christians estimated around 16.15 million (19 percent of total population), according to the information released by the US department of state.[17]



Anglicanism is represented in Ethiopia and Eritrea by the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East; Ethiopia and Eritrea are part of the Diocese of Egypt, which also includes other countries in the Horn of Africa and as well as the North Africa region. There are two Episcopal churches in Ethiopia, one is in Addis Ababa and the other in Gambela, on the other hand there are there are no current or official congregations in Eritrea. While Anglicanism is not always considered an affiliate denomination by the larger P'ent'ay community, it is still recognized as a 'Protestant' denomination.[21]

Recent misidentification of certain groups as P'ent'ay has caused confusion. One controversy involves Oneness Pentecostalism and Jehovah's Witnesses, which are strictly opposed by all Protestant denominations.

The Metropolitan sui iuris Eastern Catholic particular churches of the Eritrean Catholic Church and Ethiopian Catholic Church are not P'ent'ay (Evangelical Protestant) churches but some Orthodox Tewahedo adherents have used the term “P'ent'ay” as a pejorative by conflating and 'othering' them with P'ent'ay (Evangelical Protestants).[6]


Protestant Christians face persecution both by the Orthodox Church and by Muslims in rural areas of Ethiopia. According to Voice of the Martyrs there have been brutal killings of P'ent'ay Christians in rural areas that tend to be overlooked by the Ethiopian rural officials and stay undisclosed to international organizations. Some Orthodox families expel children out of their house if the children convert to Protestantism. Since the majority population is Orthodox, Voice of Martyrs claims no criminal investigations are carried against Orthodox mobs who burn Evangelical churches, destroy houses and even murder P'ent'ay Christians. Sources?

Voice of Martyrs also states that Evangelical Christians have been murdered by Islamic militants because they wouldn't renounce their faith in Christ. Islamic militants have stopped at least one bus (near Jijiga, a rural area) and demanded Christians recite the Islamic creed, killing those who refuse. The mostly rural churches like Kale Heywet have historically faced persecution with aggressors often doing so with impunity. During the previous 1970s & 1980s government, persecution was equally severe in the urban cities as well, with the likes of Mulu Wongel church (Full Gospel) and Mesereke Kristos Church facing widespread persecution and mass imprisonments & killings. Lacking western ties, the Mulu Wongel church was outlawed by the Derg Ethiopian government in 1972.[22] [wrong date? - Derg started in 1974] A word of prophecy came in 1972 (?) about the future of the church -

"There will soon come a long time of extreme hardship where you will be legally persecuted by your own government. It will be a time of seemingly endless misery and a test of your faith in me. Some believers will break down and lose faith but some will stay strong in faith. At the end, my people will see light as government changes and a new order arrives. you will then be blessed with the fruits of your prayers and faithfulness."

Since the prophecy, more persecution followed Ethiopian Protestants for more than a decade. However, after a change of government, many things improved including religious equality, & the right to worship, build churches & evangelize but minor & rural issues still exist. Despite these issues, compared to the past, the 1990s have brought the most freedom of religion in Ethiopia. Most of these Evangelical churches, especially Mulu Wongel, Assembly of God, and Kale Heywet, faced a lot of persecution & detentions by previous governments.[23] Ironically, the state sponsored persecution of Protestants by the 1980s government created what some scholars call an "invisible church" and an underground evangelism where the membership of these churches drastically increased despite this era of persecution.[24] Thus they say the attempt by the communist military 1974-1991 regime to "eliminate evangelical Christianity" united evangelicals including multiple denominations and made them strong.[25]

Since the early 1990s, killings and persecution have mostly stopped, particularly in the cities and areas near the cities, and there is a growing level of tolerance between Evangelical Christians and other religion followers. The ruling party however established a Faith and Religious Affairs Directorate (similar to those IN China) to issue licenses, to demand loyalty, and to infiltrate hierarchies of Christian and Islamic institutions. Even though it is not comparable to the state sponsored persecution of the past, P'ent'ay Christians in Ethiopia still face persecution from private citizens in Muslim dominated rural areas.[26] Despite Ethiopia's well-known religious tolerance, culture related acceptance issues and the growth of some Evangelical churches have also led to some violence, especially as non-Orthodox Christians & Muslims seek to gain equal economic & social status as the traditionally privileged Orthodox Christians.

New challenges Christians face in Ethiopia include the Islamic fundamentalism movement mostly coming from radical Islamists[27] or followers of an extreme form of Wahhabist Islam teachings coming from Saudi Arabia via Muslim funded projects & NGOs.


Since many of the P'ent'ay Christians are part of a larger, worldwide Evangelical community, the churches have been more involved in a lot of development work. The Mekane Yesus churches have been in extensive humanitarian and development related activities in particular, for many decades. Some of these churches address agricultural productivity issues, food security, AIDS orphans and prevention of HIV /AIDS. During the millennium preparations, Kale hiywot churches around Ethiopia also led the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign and increased their programs to support more Orphans.[28] Also some churches that don't have as much relationship with foreign organizations have been involved in development programs, though in a much smaller scale due to their financial inabilities. For instance, Misgana church and Mulu wongel churches have recently been in development activities to improve educational & health coverage; create potable water and help vulnerable street children.[29] However, since churches like the Mulu Wongel church (started by Ethiopian student movement in the mid-20th century), remain disconnected from foreign missionaries, their ability to provide equivalent development aid have been reduced.


Music, more technically speaking "Hymns" or "Psalms" (Mezmur — መዝሙር – in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, and also in other Ethiopian-Eritrean languages as well) plays a big role in preaching and the daily life of Ethiopian P'ent'ay/Evangelical Christians. With the belief that music should be for God, and him alone, Ethiopian mezmur does not have ethnic or cultural boundaries, nor restriction on what style or instruments to use. However, there are apparent influences from American evangelicals that have led to commercialization and cross-overs. CD, cassette and DVD sales are now one of the rare Ethiopian industries on the rise.

History of P'ent'ay musicEdit

Even though some of the older generation of singers didn't have the financial means to make cassettes, they have influenced Ethiopian music in various ways while singing in local churches. Some of the early singers are Addisu Worku, Leggesse Watro, the Araya Family who used to sing on Misrach Dimts Radio.

Mekane Yesus Church led the way in translating hymnals from the Swedish and adapting from Ethiopian Orthodox church. In the early 1970s the Meserete Kristos church choir was established. Some from Tsion Choir from Mulu Wongel joined the newly established choir and Meserete Kristos continued developing songs in Ethiopian languages. During these early years, other groups like Bethel singers also produced Ethiopian gospel songs.

Early comersEdit

Some of the early comers were Mulu Wongel and Meserete Kristos choirs, which now have up to Choir E and F, with each having 8, 9 albums. Some of these churches in other branch cities have stopped using single letters for choir names, and applied names instead. Other early comers Mekane Yesus church choir, Mulu Wengel church choir, Meserete Kristos church (MKC) choir arrived around the 1970s. Solo vocalists developed fast in these and other churches. Addisu Worku, Dereje Kebede, Tamrat Walba, Tesfaye Gabisso, Eyerusalem Teshome, Tamerate Haile, Tadesse Eshete, Gizachew Worku, Dr. Atalay Alem and Shewaye Damte fill in some of this list that started early.


Some of the late 20th century singers include Kalkidan Tilahun (Lily) of Qale Hiywet church, Ahavah Gospel Singers, Dagmawi Tilahun (Dagi) of Mulu Wongel church and Elias Abebe of the Assembly of God church. Others are Awtaru Kebede, Sophia Shibabaw, Mesfin Gutu, Mihiret Itefa, Dr. Lealem Tilahun (Lali), Gezahegn Muse, Azeb Hailu and many more.[30] There are also singers who are pastors, some of them are Dawit Molalign, Kasshaun Lemma and Yohannes Girma. Oromo language singers like Kabaa Fidoo, Abbabaa Tamesgeen, Iyoob Yaadataa, Baacaa Bayyanaa, Magarsaa Baqqalaa, Dastaa Insarmuu, Bilisee Karrasaa, and others have also served Evangelical Churches in southwestern Ethiopia. Also in Tigrinya language, there are singers like Yonas Haile, Mihret Gebretatios,Selam Hagos,Ruth Mekuria, Yemane Habte, and Adhanom Teklemariam and duets like Yonatan and Sosuna. Introducing new styles are young performers like Dawit "Danny" Wolde who studied at Berklee College of Music.[31] Classical and instrumental gospel songs have also flourished with Fikru Aligaz and Bethel Music Ministry. Also, Fikru Aligaz has been providing a three-Day praise and worship service with the Bethel Praise & Worship Choir to reach out local Christian and Non-Christian members of the community twice a year since 1998. Duos like Aster & Endalkachewu or Geta Yawkal & Berektawit bring more variety. Also, formerly secular singers like Hirut Bekele, Solomon Disasa and Muluken have produced gospel songs after they convert and become born-again Christians. There are many music composers in P'ent'ay church like Christian Girma (currently living in Denver, Colorado), Ebenezer Girma, Enku Girma, Nathanael Befikadu, Biruk Bedru, Daniel Ewnetu, Bereket Tesfaye, Samson Tamrat, Yabets Tesema, Ameha Mekonen, Endalkachew Hawaz, Estifanos Mengistu, and there are countless church music players. Digital music composition is utilized and there are more than twenty Christian Music studios in Ethiopia, including CMM, TDS, COMNS, Sami, Nati, Langanoo, Begena, Kinnei, Albastor, Shalom, Exodus, and Bethlehem.

Modern Musical Controversy within the ChurchEdit

Some of the most famous music players in Ethiopia like Elias Melka, played in Evangelical churches has subsequently converted to secular music. Some modern singers often mimic American Evangelical artists, allegedly including other lifestyles that are not genuine depictions of traditional Ethiopian Evangelicalism. The tradition of local church group choirs, has to an extent been supplanted by individual solo singers who have controversially gained celebrity status with their lifestyles often resembling secular celebrities.

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ https://www.antsokia.net/
  2. ^ http://www.geecathens.org/en.php
  3. ^ https://etcollege.org/
  4. ^ https://www.eecdc.org/
  5. ^ http://www.ecfethiopia.org/index.htm
  6. ^ a b "Pente: name used by Orthodox Christian to label Ethiopian Protestant Christians" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  7. ^ "Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity in Ethiopia: A Historical Introduction to a Largely Unexplored Movement". ResearchGate.
  8. ^ Amnesty International (May 2004). "Eritrea Report -- Amnesty International" (PDF). Amnesty International. AI Index: AFR 64/003/2004: Pages 13–17.
  9. ^ "Current Influences and connections of western and Ethiopian churches" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  10. ^ "ECFE and non-ecfe church listings". State.gov. 9 June 2005. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  11. ^ Evangelical church fellowship in 2004
  12. ^ ECFE churches and services Archived 12 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "A comprehensive statistical information on world religions, Christian denominations and people groups". Worldchristiandatabase.org. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  14. ^ World Christian Encyclopedia Archived 29 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001, Oxford University Press. Vol 1: p 266
  16. ^ Berhanu Abegaz, Ethiopia: A Model Nation of Minorities (accessed 22 March 2006)
  17. ^ a b "International Religious Freedom Report for 2014". State.gov. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  18. ^ "Ethiopian protestants claim as high as 18.59% of population" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  19. ^ #Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time, A History of Ethiopia (New York: Palgrave, 2000) p. 48
  20. ^ "evangelicals say Orthodox focused on "outward piety"". Csmonitor.com. 8 June 2000. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  21. ^ Anglicans Online: Africa. Accessed 2010-01-07.
  22. ^ Mulu Wongel Church outlawed in 1972
  23. ^ "religious leaders jailed and some disappeared during 1980s government". Mlive.com. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  24. ^ "Evangelical and protestant population explosion during 1980s communist government". Mlive.com. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  25. ^ "1980s government attempt to "eliminate evangelical Christianity" helped evangelical growth". Mlive.com. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  26. ^ "Freedom of religion improved 1995, but private citizen abuse remains". Csmonitor.com. 8 June 2000. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  27. ^ "Four People Die After Ethiopian Muslims Attack Police Station". Bloomberg. 30 April 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  28. ^ Kale Hiywot churches support anti-HIV campaigns Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ Mulu Wongel churches, development work
  30. ^ "WikiMezmur". www.WikiMezmur.org. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  31. ^ Mezmur 91,Psalm 91 Productions

Further readingEdit

  • Haustein, Jörg (2011). Writing Religious History: The Historiography of Ethiopian Pentecostalism, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  • Hege, Nathan B. (1998). Beyond Our Prayers: An Amazing Half Century of Church Growth in Ethiopia, 1948-1998. Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press.
  • Tibebe Eshete (2009). The Evangelical Movement in Ethiopia: Resistance and Resiliance. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.

External linksEdit