The Church is on the Move

Christianity is and always will be a mobile faith.
ED STETZER

The Church is on the Move

Often, we forget to consider the spread of Christianity across the globe from a geographical perspective. We read the New Testament with eyes and ears that are largely ignorant to the places Luke mentions in Acts or Paul writes about in the prison epistles.

Most Christians have heard of Jerusalem—the place where Jesus was crucified and risen. The geographical center of the Christian faith was clearly, early on, in and around Israel.

But while the Ancient Near East was the birthplace of our faith, it didn’t just stay there. By God’s grace, the gospel began to spread all around the world. We read about the Ethiopian eunuch who first heard the gospel message from Philip. Some disciples went to Asia Minor, Thomas goes as far as India, Paul tries to get to Spain, etc. Places like Cyprus, Caesarea, Damascus, Greece, Rome, and Carthage are mentioned throughout the book of Acts as Paul and his followers embark on four long missionary journeys.

All that to say, the gospel has been moving and spreading for centuries. The Holy Spirit has compelled believers everywhere to share the message of Christ crucified and risen in places both near and far. As demonstrated by Paul and Christ’s own disciples, this was to include continents and people groups far from the place where the Christian faith was first founded.

Despite this, Christianity has for centuries been associated with the West. Going back just a century ago, Pew Research found that “about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe.” This, according to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, is “where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium.”

But today, these numbers have changed considerably. In 2010, almost a decade ago now, Pew Research found that only a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (roughly 26 percent).

Thankfully, what we’re seeing is not that Christianity is disappearing—instead, it’s spreading and shifting its geographical center.

In 1910, Europe and North America (the West) contained 80 percent of the world’s self-identified Christians. Today, it’s 40 percent and declining. Meanwhile in the 21st century, almost 24 percent of the world’s Christians live in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to less than 2 percent a hundred years earlier.

These changes shouldn’t surprise or alarm us for many reasons. The first of which is this: Christianity is and always will be a message on the move.

This isn’t the first time in the history of the faith that its geographical center has shifted and it likely will not be the last. For centuries, Europe was the center, but after the reformation and the spread of European missionaries and immigrants to the Americas, many would say that the center of density moved to North America.

Now we’re seeing a reengagement of the Southern Hemisphere in the practicing of the Christian faith. At this point, there will likely be more evangelicals in Brazil by 2040 than there are in the United States. I’ve stood on the beach at João Pessoa with 10,000 Brazilians who put their hands out and prayed that they would be a part of a mission for the faith to reach the rest of the world—Africa, Asia, and beyond.

Of course, North America was uniquely impactful on the condition of global Christianity as it currently stands today—few would dispute that. But, the presence of believers and vitality of churches in North America and Europe nonetheless continue to decline in comparison to their respective growth in the Southern Hemisphere.

For those of us living in the West, we must remember never to despair. What we observe happening in our culture and to the life of the church isn’t a done deal—these things are always changing and shifting. The gospel is continuing to spread and people are accepting the message even if it’s becoming harder and harder to see God at work in our own communities.

For our brothers and sisters in the Global South, we pray for God’s continued blessing on the growth of the church. When appropriate, we might even find ways to use our time and resources to contribute to the work that God is already doing in these places.

Believers—wherever they live—should ultimately concern themselves not only with the health and well-being of their place of worship down the street, but with that of the global church all across the world.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

 

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The Good (Christian) News You Didn’t Hear from India

By Dr. Michael Brown – June 2, 2019

The recent elections brought bad news for Christians, and you probably heard about that. But there’s some wonderful news for the Christians of India as well. Prepare to be encouraged.

First, however, let’s look at the bad news.

The BJP, the current ruling party in India, led by Prime Minister Modi, won the national elections handily. This is bad news for millions of Christians in India.

The BJP is not just a Hindu party. It is a militantly Hindu party. It wants India to be a Hindu nation, meaning, exclusively Hindu. Prime Minister Modi has even spoken of his desire to see Christianity eradicated from India within the next few years.

These are frightening, sobering sentiments. We cannot take them lightly.

And while the BJP may not be physically persecuting Christians, militant Hindus throughout the nation have been given a free hand. This has resulted in many Christians being beaten and others being killed. (I know this firsthand through my direct contact with Christian leaders in India.)

As pointed out by Rob Schwarzwalder, “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been reelected. By a huge margin. That’s ‘an absolute tragedy.’ That’s what Dean Curry, head of the anti-persecution ministry Open Doors, calls it. Modi is a Hindu nationalist deeply hostile to Christianity and to Christians.

“Since he came to power in 2014, India has become the tenth worst country in the world for following Jesus. It was 28th on Open Doors’ World Watch List back then. What countries are worse? Iran’s ninth. India’s only slightly better than the Iranian theocracy. Pakistan’s fifth. Afghanistan’s second and North Korea’s first.”

Indeed, “Modi’s government so dislikes Christianity that it will hurt its own people to keep Christians away. It has been getting rid of Christian ministries that have for many years served India’s many needy people. In 2017, Compassion International was forced to close ‘589 Indian-staffed development centers caring for more than 145,000 children.’ Why? Because ‘India’s Ministry of Home Affairs put it on a list of organizations needing prior approval before transferring funds into the country’ — but wouldn’t approve the grant.”

The list of concerns goes on and on.

We need to pray for a change of heart in the Indian government, and we need to petition President Trump to speak out against Modi’s aggressive, anti-Christian actions.

My Indian friends truly believe that one strong word from the White House would put a major stop to Modi’s hostile designs.

But there is good news from India as well. Really good news.

First, the gospel continues to spread powerfully in that vast nation of more than 1.3 billion souls. As reported by Dr. Ralph Wilson:

“the percentage of Christians has increased substantially from 2.5% a decade ago to about 5.8% today. That represents a huge increase in the growth rate. Something is happening!”

And in some states, the growth is much greater, with Christians representing as much as 10-15 percent of the total population.

This is truly unprecedented.

Second, this surge in Christian population was in evidence in the election results in the state of Andhra (that is, Andhra Pradesh, a state I have visited annually since 1993).

Back in 2009, the chief minister of Andhra, Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, died in a helicopter accident. Reddy was a compassionate and committed Christian, and I remember my friends in Andhra being shocked at how many Christians came forward to mourn his death. They had no idea there were so many believers in Andhra.

My friends were also amazed to see how greatly loved Reddy was by millions of Hindus who lived in Andhra.

Now, his son, Jagan Mohan Reddy, also a committed Christian, has been elected to be Andhra’s new chief minister. And the party he founded, founded, the YSR Congress Party, won by a landslide. And I mean landslide.

As reported on Wikipedia:

“In the 2019 National and State election held in April-May 2019, YSJR won 151 of the total 175 assembly seats and 22 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh.”

This is absolutely remarkable, and it is certainly a cause for rejoicing, especially when each state in India has so much autonomy.

This, then, is incredible news for the Christians in Andhra Pradesh. And it is important news for the Christians of India as a whole, since Mr. Reddy wields considerable influence as the chief minister of a major state, while his party has become a significant party.

Let’s pray for his safety (he is being sworn May 30, so perhaps as you read this article) and for the safety of Christians throughout the country.

God has great plans to bless the nation of India!

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