Trends and Changes in World Christianity
Rev. Sang-Bok David Kim, ThD, DD, DLitt, WEA Chairman
When the Soviet Union performed the first moon crash landing in 1959 at high speed onto the lunar surface, a feat duplicated three years later by the Americans and finally Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on Apollo 11 first setting foot on the surface of the moon, some made bold claims that there is no God and religion would disappear by the end of the 20th century.
However, today religions of all kinds are still alive and well. The semen religionis remains intact in man and more so with a greater fervor. Man is incurably religious and needs to have some answers for big questions of life and will not rest till he finds them, because we are created in the image of God (Gen 2:27).
The population of the world almost doubled between 1970 and 2010. The UN lists the population in 2010 as 6.9 billion with 1.2% annual growth rate. Combined religious people add up to 86.42%, which shows that man is a spiritual being. Religion gives no sign to retire. Christianity by far holds the largest percentage of people, 2.23 billion(32.29%), Muslim 1.58 billion(22.90%), Hindu 0.96 billion(13.88%), non-religious secularist 0.938 billion(13.58%), Buddhist 0.48 billion(6.92%) and others(10%). Christianity clearly remains as the global religion(Operation World, 2010, 5), while Muslims are concentrated mainly in Middle East and North Africa, and Buddhists in South and East Asia. However, Muslims increase faster than Christians, not so much from conversion, but due to their higher birth rate(1.9%, Christians 1.2%). Now the defunct dictator Col. Gaddafi of Libya once proclaimed with a smile on his face, “Islam will take over the world without a shot.” He was referring to the rapid Muslim population growth in Europe.
Christianity is no longer a Western “white-man’s religion.” Christians are now everywhere. The center of Christianity is shifted to the non-Western world. The countless sacrifices of the Western missionaries and the efforts of indigenous Christians for the last 200 years were blessed by God and are bearing fruits even today.
Evangelicals/Pentecostals/Charismatics On the Rise
Christianity has slightly declined as a percentage of the world’s population since 1900 – only the Protestant, Independent and Marginal Megablocks have defied this trend to gain a proportion of the world’s population.
Among the Christians Roman Catholic holds 15.77% of the world population and the rest of Christian groups combined together stands for 17%. Catholics (0.6%) and Orthodox (0.2%) are growing very slowly, lagging behind the growth rate of the world population (1.2%), while Protestants (1.8%) and Anglicans (1.6%) are ahead. This growth comes mostly from the non-Western world. The largest growth is observed among the independent churches, mainly among the evangelicals (2.6%), Charismatics (3.4%) and Pentecostals (2.6%).
Evangelicals emerged as a dynamic force following the revivals of the 18th and 19th Centuries. Pentecostals sprang out of early 20th century revivals. Their growth was spectacular – from virtually no Pentecostals in 1900 to over 426 million in 2010.
Charismatics and Pentecostals are basically evangelical in faith and doctrine. In Asia, Africa and Latin America, they are not separately categorized as usually done in the West (OW, xxxi).
North America is still leading the evangelical movement, while in the regions of Pacific, Africa, Latin America, and Caribbea, evangelicals have been steadily growing. They have personal relationship with Jesus Christ and something to firmly believe in. They believed in the uniqueness of Christ, the gospel of salvation freely offered, the authority of Scripture, the power of the Holy Spirit and the daily communion with the Lord, instead of theological or academic debates on theology such as Christology, soteriology, bibliology, and pneumatology. Their faith is a living faith, not mere knowledge or a set of doctrines, but focused enough to generate energy for life and ministry.
The churches are growing in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, in contrast to stagnation or decline in the rest of the world, growing more specifically in China, India, Sudan, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Myanmar and even Iran. It is noteworthy that the growth of the Church is taking place in the countries that are or have had persecution like the countries cited.
During the annual board meetings of Asia Evangelical Alliance we have a session to share the state of national alliances. We listen to the exciting news of the steady growth of churches in most of the Asian countries. Evangelical churches are making a good progress even under difficult challenges in Asia. During the decade of 1990-2000 evangelical mission agencies poured their energy in the outreach of the unreached people groups. Even my church adopted ten of these unreached groups and sent our missionaries to plant churches.
In fact evangelical churches have been growing at a rate faster than any other world religion or global religious movement (OW, 6), everywhere around the world and in North America, while the major traditional churches were declining during the period when theothanatology (God-Is-Dead theology), The Secular City, Honest to God, Situation Ethics, hippy culture and mass demonstrations on the streets against the Vietnam War and the civil rights were exploding.
Not only the evangelical churches but also the post-WWII evangelical missions was an astonishing success story, but most of the subsequent growth came from a new generation of indigenous evangelical movements around the world. Evangelicals numbered 89 million (2.9%) in 1960 and they have reached 546 million in 2010 (7.9%) (OW, 6).
Why Conservative Churches Grow ?
The NCC USA made a study in order to stop the decline of the its member churches and produced a book called, “Why Conservative Churches Grow?” (Dean M. Kelly, 1977), and discovered that one of the main reasons of the decline was widespread theological liberalism in the church and strong evangelical faith and small group Bible studies were recommended.
Global Prayer Movement and Network
Prayer is the engine of any ministry. Prayer movements and networks multiplied and grew as God’s people joined together to pray on an unprecedented scale and with greater focus and breadth.
Movements on local, national and international levels are praying for communities, nations, peoples and thematic issues as well. Sustained, informed, impassioned intercession is occurring as never before anyone can keep track of, but International Prayer Connect (IPC) links hundreds of prayer networks and ministries to focus prayer on common global concerns, prayer movements such as The Global Day of Prayer, initiated in Cape Town calling for repentance that mobilizes tens of thousands, if not hundreds, of millions of Christians have participated in these meetings over the years.
The Prayer Expo in Korea in 1980 attracted a million people at the Yeouido plaza from all over the world.
Grassroots prayer newworks such as 24/7 Prayer and IHOP draws thousands of young people into a worldwide, unbroken streams of prayer and worship to God.
Prayer for the persecuted Church called International Day of Prayer, the 30-Day Prayer Network for Muslims, Global Prayer Digest, Praying Through the Arabian Peninsula, Call to Prayer for Victims of Sex Trade Trafficking, Viva Network World Weekend of Prayer for Children at Risk and many others. They came from different churches, but pray together. This is the reason why spiritual fruits are experienced. When we pray, the Holy Spirit intervenes (John 14:12-18).
Aid, development and charity work across the globe escalated through 1980s and 1990s and continue in this decade. The civil sector (NGOs) is now the eighth-largest economy in the world, worth over $1 trillion per year globally. More than ever the needs of the most vulnerable and needy are being addressed. There appeared a more holistic understanding of evangelical mission within the Church. Such ministry brings liberty to the oppressed and sets captives free reflects the heart of God, the values of the Scriptures and the role of the Church.
Relief and development work by mission agencies such as World Vision, World Relief, Tearfund, Food for the Hungry, Compassion, MedAir and hundred others work with secular international NGOs such as UN, Medecins Sans Frontierers, Oxfam, CARE International and others. Agencies, religious and non-religious, work together. It is only right that churches do also with one another.
Non-Western Missions Going Strong
The globalization of the Great Commission movement has profoundly changed the face of mission. Since the late 1970s, there has been a surge of interest and involvement in missions from the non-Western Majority World. Mission sending has recently gained or maintained momentum in countries such as Ethiopia, Nigerian, Brazil, Phillipines, South Korea and even Han Chinese House churches.
Still the USA leads as the largest sending nation of foreign missionaries, but South Korea has replaced the UK as the second largest. South Korean Church sent out 550 missionaries in 1990 and in 20 years the number increased to 22,000 who are serving in 176 countries today. That is 4,000% increase and still more are called to go to fulfill the Great Commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ. Han Chinese aim to retrace the historic Silk road trade routes between Asia and the Mediterranean, with 100,000 church planting evangelists sharing Jesus along the way. It is called Back to Jerusalem movement.
Nigeria’s Vision 2015 has a vision to send 50,000 workers in 15 years with the gospel across the north of Africa, also toward Jerusalem. Latin American movements send workers to North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Pacific Islanders are building the Deep Sea Canoe Vision to send workers to other indigenous peoples. East and west, north and south work together to finish the harvest.
Global Collaboration for the Great Commission Task
The heightened awareness, globally, of the size, complexity and evangelistic challenges of the Muslim world, largely through events of 9/11, birthed in many believers a burden for Muslims. In the past 20 years more Muslims than ever before have come to Christ, more workers serve in Muslim heartlands, more agencies focus on these regions and more sustained intercession is given for these peoples precious to God. The political crises in the Buddhist world, Mongolia, Cambodia and Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Thailand now see unprecedented Christian growth and even a small movement budding in Tibet. The upheaval in the Hindu world has likewise drawn greater attention to this large swath of human population. Incredible growth in Nepal is occurring in the middle of civil war and continued turmoil. Unrest, religious violence and severe persecution and governmental neglect in certain parts of India creates opportunities for the gospel harvest. Particularly Christ is the definite hope for the Dalits/Untouchables in India.
Collaboration of the Church on a global level now shapes the prospects for finishing the Great Commission task. Several commemorative events were held in 2010 reflecting 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference and the most notable for evangelicals the Third Lausanne Congress in October last year along with the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), The AD2000 and Beyond Movement, GCOWE ’95 in Seoul for the outreach to the unreached groups, The Ethne Movement, Transform World Movement with the focus on 4/14 window reaching children for the next decade, Call2All, Finishing Task, the Billion Soul Coalition and many others.
Through the combined effort of the Bible societies and Bible translation agencies, 95% of the world’s population has access to Scripture in a language they can understand. Vision 2025 aims to see a Bible translation programme started in every language that needs one by the 2025. The JESUS film has had several billion individual viewings worldwide since 1979 through the work of more than 1500 Christian agencies . This has yielded over 200 million responses. This film is available over 1,000 languages. Christian satellite TV and the Internet specially in the Middle East and West Asia are reaching the large number of Muslims. The organizational unity has not been as important as the spiritual unity for the Great Commission. The collaboration, networks and combined efforts for the same purpose produce many positive results for the Kingdom of God. He uses for His kingdom the diverse spiritual gifts of His people. The serious followers of Christ will dedicate themselves for the same goal set before us by our Lord. They will collaborate with one another.
MBBs Fast Increasing
Muslim growth has been rapid from 12.3% of world population in 1900 to 22.9% in 2010. However, 9/11 and recent years of terrorism of radical Islamism horrify not only the world but also the moderate Muslim world as well. This created often disillusion, disgust among the Muslims and caused them to be open to the person of Jesus Christ. The number of Muslim background believers (MBB) is rapidly increasing in recent years. Many anticipate a coming of harvest of millions into the Kingdom of God from among the Muslim world. Satellite TV, radio and internet are powerful tools reaching them and they are responding in an unprecedented number. In 2010 alone 500,000 sent in their responses to TV programs (Al Hayat) designed for the Muslims by phone, email, and letter, while 250,000 responded to Internet. Conversion numbers average 1,500 per week. The resource materials are downloaded two million times during the last year. For the last 7 years there was 1.5 million feedback. Fifty house churches are started through the ministry of one Satellite TV. MBBs often face severe pressures and even death in countries where this trickle of salvation is now a rushing stream. We are united in the belief that Muslims are very dear to God who loves them as much. Jesus Christ is Good News to them.
Christian Suffer Most
However, among all the religious people of the world, Christians have suffered most and are still suffering most under high or very high governmental restrictions and persecution in the 50 countries, 39 of them predominantly Muslim countries, 6 Secular/Communist/Marxist countries, 4 Buddhist countries and 1 Hindu country (OW, 2). During the 20th and 21st centuries more Christians are martyred than the first 19 centuries put together, while the people of other religions enjoy substantial freedom in the traditionally Christian and democratic countries. We need to keep the persecuted Christians in our daily prayers. They are our family.
Re-Evangelization of the Christian World
Christianity has become the most global of religions. There is no country without a Christian witness or fellowship of indigenous believers (although in a very few cases, they must remain secretive). There are 14 countries with a resident Christian population of less than 1%, and a further 23 with less than 5%.
Nominalismis a major issue, and not just in the West. In many Christianized countries, most of the population need to be re-evangelized; living in the afterglow of a Christian heritage does not confer eternal salvation. Many traditionally Christian populations know nothing of a personal faith, true repentance from sin and working out their salvation in relationship with the living God. Many others rely on good works to earn salvation rather than trusting in and living out of God’s free gift of grace. The majority of those who identify themselves as Christian do not actively practice their faith. After the presentation in Istanbul, Turkey early this year by Hegumen Ryabykh on Trends and Changes in the Orthodox Churches, from the Russian Orthodox Church’s Perspective, Hegumen Ryabykh the Moscow Patraichate said as he answered a question about prosylitism that the Russian Orthodox Church was now less concerned with the issue of prosylitism than in the 1990s. The church was concentrating more on the evangelization of the 80% nominal Orthodox Christians. The same problem exists at local churches and everywhere in the Christian community. This task is urgent for all Churches. Rolf Hille said that nominal Christians was a common problem for all traditions and that evangelization within the traditional churches is an issue for evangelicals. They need to be re-evangelized. We can work together for the same purpose. If they are won to Christ, we should rejoice by all means, just as in heavens.
The Mandate of the Great Commission
The Lord Jesus Christ gave His Church clear instructions after His resurrection and before he was taken up to heaven. His command is our main concern. We serve the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.
The evangelistic challenges: Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Luke 24:47: “…that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem”.
The discipling challenge: Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
The missiological challenge: John 17:18, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” John 20:21: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
The global challenge: Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This encompasses the task before us; it is vast in scope. John P Jones wrote in 1912, “This enterprise is not only the greatest that the world has ever known; it is also the most difficult of achievement.” Yet, we believe that the Great Commission is not merely an ideal to aspire toward, but an achievable command given by the Lord (OW, 27). “This gospel of kingdom shall be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14). In each of the passages referenced above, the commissioning of the Church was accompanied by assurances of God’s power and authority and the very real presence of the Holy Spirit. The scale of the task before us is matched only by the greatness of the God who promises to accompany and empower us. For such a task to accomplish we need to be united in recognition of oneness in faith, ministry and purpose, which already exist among us the serious followers of Jesus Christ the Lord, who binds us all in Him.
The First GCF Impact on My Life
In 2007 I had a privilege to attend the first GCF at Limuru, Kenya. I was assigned to a group of 30 people sharing their faith journeys, which profoundly affected me in my outlook of other Christians. I have been so busy all my life with my own community that I haven’t had opportunities to sit with people from much diverse background, and listen to so many faith journeys at one sitting. I still vividly remember one Catholic priest in my group, who was President and theology professor at a Catholic University. He shared his struggles and conflict as a theologian. He had no peace and no joy in his life-long studies, but rather doubts, confusion and conflicts. Only a few years ago he said he had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. He became a new man. Until then mass and communion have been a mere ritual for him and his life has been dry. But since that experience he is now excited with anticipation on every Sunday and when he receive bread and wine, sometimes tears flow on his face. Jesus is real to him, not just as a subject of Christology. He has a transformed life.
As I was listening to him, tears welled in my eyes as well, because I understood exactly what he was talking about. He is a Catholic priest, a Catholic theologian and president of a Catholic University. But what he had experienced was identical to mine as an evangelical minister, an evangelical theologian and president of an evangelical university. In Christ he was my brother. We both met Christ in a personal way. We had the same Father, the same Jesus and the same Holy Spirit. We belong to the same family. That small group sharing opened my eyes to a new spiritual reality. I was surprised to discover that we were spiritually already one and gave me a sheer joy to know it. It was not a theological agreement, nor our backgrounds, nor our churches, nor our outfits. Our stories centered primarily around One Person Jesus Christ. An Italian minister heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ at a tent meeting on the street and trusted Christ as his personal savior. Eventually he was called to serve the Lord and he was sitting there next to me. The central core of their spiritual transformation was the same to all that everyone understood the gospel and trusted Jesus Christ the Son of God for their salvation. He was the answer for Christian unity. If we draw a circle around Him, many are included. But if we draw a circle around ourselves, many will be left out.
I was born in a Christian family in North Korea in 1939 during the time of the Japanese military occupation and severe persecution of Christians in Korea. I grew up in my childhood watching my pastor and elders imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese police because they refused to worship the Japanese Shinto god. Rev. Joo Kichul, my faithful pastor was tortured to death at the end of his seven years of imprisonment only half a year prior to the Japanese surrender in August, 1945, the end of World War II. Under his strong leadership our congregation did not go to the Shinto shrine to worship, when practically all of the Korean churches, Catholics and Protestants, Buddhists and Confucians and the entire people of Korea knelt before the Japanese god. Following the Japanese surrender, Korea was forcibly divided into North and South by the Russians and the Americans against the will of the people, which divided condition still remains until today. In our church one senior pastor died as a martyr during the 36 years of the Japanese occupation, while during the short five-year rule of the Communists between 1945 and 1950 before the war. six of our other church leaders were killed, three pastors and three elders. The communists were worse than the Japanese.
During those years Christian students were subjected to all types of corporal and mental punishment, simply because they went to church on Sundays. Schools were ordered by the government to force Christian students to give up their faith. Teachers slapped the Christian children on their faces, hit them with sticks, bamboo rules on their palms, sometimes with an iron tube on their calves, threatened them to expel from school, verbal abuses, detained them late at school, had them to stand in the corridors with their hands up, and ostracized them in front of the whole class, while their peers sneering at them, sometimes their classmates mob linching them. Christian students were defenseless. After three years of such physical and mental persecution, a pastor’s son and I were only two left still faithful to the Lord and church and endured through. All other Christian students gave up, for it was too much suffering for them to endure. My church and my mother in particular were great support and encouragement for me to remain faithful to the end, till the Korean War broke out in 1950, when we didn’t have to go to school. My mother told me to leave home for to South Korea during the war, where there is freedom, which I did as an 11 year old boy. I and my family have been separated between North and South Korea. I grew up like an orphan. But the Lord has been faithful to my life.
I stand here this morning before this august body of Christian leaders from all over the world and from all traditions, as a retired minister, a retired professor of systematic theology, a mission mobilizer, currently serving as President of Torch Trinity Graduate University, chairman of Asia Evangelical Alliance and World Evangelical Alliance and above all as a humble servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have known the eternal love of God for me in Jesus Christ. I have seriously sought to obey the Lord Jesus Christ in all things, particularly His Great Commission and his prayer in John 17 for Christian unity. My life has been a long process of metamorphosis. While I was listening to the faith journeys of the participants, I was startled to discover that in spite of the differences among the participants, we all shared a common faith in the Lord. The spiritual experience was the same. We were after all brothers and sisters in Christ. I became keenly aware of oneness and that I have a great family in Christ in every tradition, in every denomination, and in every church and in every country. I am only a member of a huge family. What is the minimum requirement for us to be siblings in a family? Receiving life from parents! What is the minimum requirement to be members of God’s family? Receiving eternal life from the same Father through Christ by believing in His Son. One may be healthy, while another may be handicapped. One may be more handsome than the other. One may be richer and another may be poorer, better educated than the other. These are not the requirements. If we are born of the same father, we are his children. We may be Catholics, Protestants, evangelicals, Charismatic/Pentecostals. But we share the same heavenly Father. We are born of God, when we put our trust in Jesus Christ as our savior and the Lord. So we belong to one another. Therefore, no one can deny our oneness and separate us from one another and the love of God that is in Jesus Christ. This is given. We worship the same God. The Apostle Paul exhorted us in his Epistle to the Ephesians,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1-7). Amen, Amen!
Rev. Dr. Sang-Bok David, ThD, DD, Dlitt
Chairman, World Evangelical Alliance
President, Torch Trinity Graduate University, Korea
Pastor Emeritus, Hallelujah Community Church, Korea