Inverting Your Christian Geography

Do you think of Christianity as western phenomenon? Do you think of America as the quintessential leader in missions, theology, and worship? Truth be told, I often do. As an American it’s easy to think that we’re the center of Christianity’s gravity, that in some sense all movements fall in our direction. But Christianity is no longer a western phenomenon. The gravity of faith has moved to the southern and eastern hemispheres.

This change occurred almost entirely in the last century. If you were a Christian Rip Van Winkle and fell asleep in 1900, you wouldn’t recognize the Christian world you woke up to today. Mark Noll offers several fascinating details in The New Face of World Christianity. He writes,

  • This Past Sunday it is possible that more Christian believers attended church in China than all of so-called “Christian Europe.” Yet in 1970 there were no legally functioning churches in China…
  • This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States Combined…
  • This past Sunday more Presbyterians were at church in Ghana than in Scotland, and more congregations … [in] South Africa than the United States.
  • This past Sunday there were more members of Brazil’s Pentecostal Assemblies of God at church than the combined total in the two largest U.S. Pentecostal denominations…
  • This past Sunday more people attended Yoido Full Gospel Church … in Seoul, Korea, than attended all the churches in significant American denominations. … Six to eight as many people attended this one church as the total that worshipped in Canada’s ten largest churches combined.
  • The largest Christian congregation in Europe is in Kiev, and it is pastored by a Nigerian of Pentecostal background.
  • This past Sunday the churches with the largest attendance in England and France had mostly black congregations. About half the churchgoers in London were African or African-Caribbean…
  • This past Sunday there were more Roman Catholics at worship in the Philippines than in any single country of Europe…
  • This past week in Great Britain, at least fifteen thousand Christian foreign missionaries were hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia…
  • The world’s largest chapter of the Jesuit order has been found in India, not in the United States, as it was for much of the late twentieth century.
The gospel is a message for every tribe, tongue and nation. We can celebrate that our faith is becoming an increasingly worldwide movement. As it does, I think we need must be willing to take the efforts of our international brothers and sisters seriously.

We must listen to their theologians, who write on new and old topics with new insights and perspectives (like “What is the unit of salvation?” and “How close is the spiritual world to ours?”).

We must consider their worship practices, though their new songs and styles that might surprise us (Many African churches, for example, practice public confession of sins during services).

We must rejoice and affirm their missionary efforts. The south and east are already eclipsing the west’s numbers despite their lack of wealth (on average it takes 7.6 American churches to support one missionary, while it only takes 0.7 churches to support one missionary in Singapore).

Moreover, I hope these truths humble our Spiritual pride, and cause us to glorify God for his dedication to save mankind. He is fulfilling his promise in Isaiah,

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
    and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your rising. (60:2-3)

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