Newly released data from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life provides the results of polling gathered from 2,196 evangelical leaders from 166 countries and territories who were invited to attend the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa, last October. The results make for a very insightful discussion about the state of evangelical Protestant Christianity around the world.

Evangelical leaders who live in the Global South (sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and most of Asia) are generally optimistic about the prospects for evangelicalism in their countries. But leaders who live in the Global North (Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) tend to be more pessimistic. The reasons are quite obvious if you read the poll and the attendant comments on it.

One that stands out – evangelical leaders around the world view secularism, consumerism and popular culture as the greatest threats they face today. More of the leaders expressed concern about these aspects of modern life than expressed concern about other religions, internal disagreements among fellow evangelicals or government restrictions on religion.

This last sentence troubles me. The same evangelical leaders who went on to approve The Cape Town Commitment, which I have written about a number of times here, did not express deep concern about disunity in the church and its implications for mission. Simply put, the schismatic tendencies their evangelical faith and practice create in the world should make them grieve over this tragedy but it doesn’t seem to have reached the place in their hearts where it causes them spiritual consternation of any magnitude. I find this deeply troubling. While evangelicals are great at making discipleship and evangelism a priority they seem unconcerned about the damage they cause in the larger church when they refuse to make visible unity a much higher priority.

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  1. John Paul Todd July 19, 2011 at 8:20 am

    “Unity not a major concern”. This is certainly true of Evangelical leaders in general, John, but something told me that research based on those attending Lausanne was not quite accurate. After all, these r the people who by their being together 4 the cause of Christ’ world mission probably demonstrate your missional-ecumenism as well as any today. So I followed the link to the ‘Capetown Commitment’ and found this clear statement:

  2. John Metz July 19, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I share your concern over the lack of care for oneness among Christians, especially evangelical leaders according to the Pew statistics. From our past conversations, I know you are burdened concerning the Lord’s prayer to the Father in John 17:21 — “That they all may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”
    This lack of concern for oneness among evangelical leaders may be due, in part, to the prevailing tendency to look at the Bible through the lens of today’s situation among Christians, to accept that situation as normative, and to interpret the Bible in light of what we see around us. Rather,if we look at today’s divided and confusing situation through the lens of the Bible, we cannot help but to be concerned for the testimony of the oneness of the Body of Christ.

  3. John Metz July 19, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    John, another good post. I know you are very concerned about the oneness expressed in the Lord’s prayer to the Father in John 17:21, “That they all may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” It is clear from this that oneness is on the Lord’s heart and involves our relationship with the Triune God.
    Why, then, is in not a concern of evangelical leaders, at least according to the Pew statistics? Perhaps because of the tendency to accept the situation around us as normative and then, through the lens of today’s Christian situation, to interpret the Bible accordingly. If, on the other hand, one looks at today’s situation through the lens of the Bible and interprets the situation according to the Bible, oneness becomes a big concern. Then the question becomes how to practice the oneness according to the Bible. “Aye, that’s the rub.”

  4. BrianK July 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    I see Christianity today as a field of silos. Each splintered organization has put of their silo, each trying to build a higher tower of Biblical logic and solutions to life issues. I think we should stop seeking solutions and try to understand the problems. I think God wants to see Christians in wonderful, amazing unity with no walls, each member of the body performing its role so that the whole body can move swiftly and accurately. Unity does not mean we all need to be the same. In fact, unity means we all find our difference and use the gifts Christ distributed. Perhaps the body of Christ is just limping along like a victim of war?

  5. BrianK July 20, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    And whatever the reason, I am deeply disturbed by the report that seems to indicate a giving up on unity. Perhaps Christians have sought uniformity and failed (of course) and have stopped trying to attain the unity Apostle Paul wrote about.

  6. Chris Criminger July 22, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Hey John
    I can’t help but wonder if the lack of concern for Christian unity and oneness also means a lack of concern on the oneness of God? Just a thought . . .

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