I had the pleasure of hearing Professor Philip Jenkins, author of numerous award-winning books on the globalization of Christianity, speak yesterday at the board meeting of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. I have taught Jenkins’ books in several classes, heard him lecture in-person previously, and had several brief discussions with him about matters related to church renewal around the globe. He is a scholar, an accomplished historian and a good critic of the good and bad about the coming globalized impact of Christianity in our lifetime. No one I know has spent more time on these issues and thus has more to say that is important for real lovers of Christ’s kingdom.
Jenkins’ address yesterday began with several comments about the impact of global schism upon the whole Church. He reminded us that the first great global church schism came in 1054. He then quoted an African bishop, serving in Rochester, New York, who concluded that we now have "two different religions" within the visible Christian Church, especially in the West. The focus of Jenkins’ comments was upon the present turmoil with the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) and the worldwide Anglican community. Jenkins is quite adept with making serious points with numbers. One that astounded me was this: There are more Anglican Christians in the world today than there were Christians in 1054. And, 30% of the Roman Catholics in the world today live in three countries: Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines. Every branch of the Christian Church is impacted by this globalizing impact of growth and by what is happening to destroy ECUSA and impact the worldwide Anglican Church.
ECUSA is undergoing what Jenkins described as a "slow swan-dive" into oblivion. While the money, media, academe are in the Northern hemisphere, the growing power and development of the Church is really in the South. For example, two of the most healthy parts of the Roman Catholic Church are among the Vietnamese in the U.S., who are very conservative, and the Nigerians, who are alive with kingdom passion. I have experienced these realities first-hand. The Southernization of the Church is now impacting the North openly and every expression of the Christian Church is deeply impacted by this fact.
Jenkins related a most remarkable story about the former Soviet Union. Pentecostal Churches are growing there by leaps and bounds. As these churches seek for large buildings, in which to worship and develop the church, they are finding former halls built for the spread of communism to be the best buildings for Christ. The story on the street is that "God built these buildings under the communists so that Christ could use them to grow his church!" And mega-churches do exist in the global North outside the US. In Great Britain the largest churches are now pastored by Africans and the people are Africans. Jenkins suggested that every one living in North America in a major city should take the Yellow Pages and look for a list of churches and note how many of them are Asian, African and South American. You will be astounded when you really look.
All of this Southern growth and spiritual energy presents challenges and opportunities. The prospect of cults is real but the charge of cult practice will grow as the media, and some Western Christians, refuse to respect what God is really doing. Jenkins suggested there were three media responses in the West: (1) The truth, (2) The Whole Truth, and (3) Nothing Like the Truth. Example: Did you realize that 75% of Arabs living in the US are non-Muslims?
Jenkins sees the Jesus Video as "the great ecclesiastical weapon of mass destruction" because it has done so much to spread the gospel through modern technology. Hate crimes legislation already threatens the church in Canada. It may be only a matter of time until it impacts us in the US. There were likely be laws passed to curb prophetic churches and to attack any congregation that deals with deliverance-type ministry. Will we watch or will we actively engage with what God is doing in this new global context?
I pray that I, and the small resources of ACT 3, will be used by the Holy Spirit to actively engage what God is doing in the world. I believe the Kingdom of Christ is advancing and advancing powerfully. Let those with eyes to see it take heart and pray. Hearing Philip Jenkins yesterday reminded me of these truths and thus fired my own soul with new passion for the spread of the gospel.