A Wake-Up Call

by Francis MacNutt
Jul/Aug 2002

Hilaire Belloc, a famous British Catholic writer of the last century, confidently asserted, "Europe is the Faith." No more.

Most Christians in Europe and North America prob­ably don't realize it, but non-white Christians will soon be the overwhelming Christian majority in our world. Scholars who study population growth assert that by the year 2050, four out of every five Christians will no longer live in Europe or North America. This will be a revolutionary change, "one of the most transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide."1

Ironically, at the very moment when Christians in Europe and the United States comment on how the number of Christians attending church services in Europe and England is dwindling, and then predict that Christianity may be a dying religion, the Third World - Asia, Africa and Latin America - is seeing an explosive growth of Christianity. The largest church in the world is in Seoul, Korea - a Pentecostal church with over 500,000 members - and the healing evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke, recently gave a healing service for 1.6 million people in Lagos, Nigeria. To say that a shrinking remnant of the world believes in Christianity is an "outrageous"2 assertion, according to a fascinating book I have just been reading - which I would encourage you to read if you are interested in the global aspects of Christianity.3

The facts are extraordinary. Did you know that the Anglicans in Africa outnumber by far the Anglicans in England and, probably, by 2050, only a tiny minority will be white Europeans; even today there are 20 million Anglicans in Nigeria. In Uganda there are 7000 flourishing Anglican parishes and their condition is far healthier than are most parishes in the originating country of England. Roman Catholics in Africa, as late as 1955, numbered only 16 million, but today they total 120 million!

In a few years the world's Christian population centers will no longer be Rome, Geneva and Paris, but Kinshasa, Buenos Aires and Manila. Today the largest block of Christians are still in Europe but in a short 20 years, Europe will probably fall to third place behind Africa and Latin America. We can see the era of western Christianity passing away in our own lifetime.

The sad thing is that, generally, speaking, Western church readers are unaware of what's happening. The church in Europe may be in its dying days, but this dwindling strength, is countered by the explosive growth of Christianity in the poorer Third World countries.

The cynical view of some analysts in regard to Christian foreign missions is that they were foisted on overseas nations by the Western colonial powers as a cultural backup for their political aggression and greed. They hold, for example, that the Catholic missions in Latin America were forced on the Indians by the greedy, violent conquistadors and, therefore, their religion only goes skin deep. One African statement goes like this, "When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened our eyes again, we had the Bible and they had the land." This cynical point of view (which is largely true) predicted that when the colonial powers pulled out - such as England, Spain, Portugal, (and the U.S., too, in the Philippines) - these nations would quickly drop the imported Christian religion. The liberal point of view within some Christian denominations has even become hostile to mission work: "All religious traditions have roughly the same value, so why force our culture on them?"

Actually, the reverse happened: when the colonial powers pulled out, Christianity exploded numerically in almost every country that had been dominated politically by Europe (e.g. Nigeria gained independence only in 1960).

Again, sadly, the very Christian leaders who ex­press theological disbelief in the miraculous - who doubt the reality of supernatural healing and the existence of evil spirits as described in Scripture - devalue what is happening in Third World Christianity, calling it a form of primitive superstitious religion which is closer to paganism than to true Christianity.

Both Bishop John Spong and the Rev. Arthur Peacocke (Anglican), the winner of the esteemed Templeton Award, call for us to abandon outmoded supernatural doctrines and moral assumptions in order to become relevant to our society by presenting the faith in a more credible manner.4 They discount what Philip Jenkins describes as "the most successful social movement of the past century."5 From this new point of view, the Spong-Peacocke point of view, which these "modernists" believe is on the cutting edge of the future, is already out of date.

A most encouraging realization is to find that what these Third World churches are discovering is exactly what we at CHM have also discovered- and also experience every day.

The key difference between what the majority of mainstream Christian Churches in the West and the exploding churches of the South believe include:

• the supernatural,
• the power of the Holy Spirit,
• God's intervention in the daily lives of believers,
• healing, and
• exorcising evil spirits.

Soon the two main centers of Christianity will be Africa and Latin America, and these churches feature enthusiastic, spontaneous worship. They believe not just in social evil, but in supernatural evil, which re­quires real spiritual warfare. They differ from older denominations in that they believe that "God intervenes directly in everyday life."6

These, of course, are beliefs that you will find in many independent churches ( as well as Pentecostal churches) in the U.S. and Europe, such as the Vine­yard, and also among charismatic segments of the more traditional churches. What we are trying to do at CHM, as best we can, is to bring all these groups together, to engage in a struggle against the hidden pride that disdains healing and deliverance as unscientific and the product of primitive religion.

What we believe about the power of the Spirit is, I believe, at the core of traditional Christian belief of all the main denominations, but it has been obscured and sometimes lost. What we at CHM believe and do is relevant to the life of every human being. This relevance is being dramatically demonstrated by what is happening in the young churches in the Third World.

We should be humbled by what is going on in the poor regions of the world, rather than disregarding these new Christians as being superstitious, and barely rising above the laud of witch-doctors and shamans. In 1940 there were only one million Protestants in Latin America, compared to 50 million today - and these Protestants for the most part, do not belong to mainline denominations.7 They are evangelical - Pentecostal. Demographers document an extraordinary increase worldwide at the rate of 19 million new members a year in Pentecostal churches.8 For ex­ample, in Rio de Janeiro, in a three-year span in the 1990's, 700 new Pentecostal churches were planted, along with 240 spiritualist temples, but only one new Catholic parish.9 There are twice as many Presbyterians (mainly charismatic) in South Korea as there are in the U.S.10

What is God saying in all this?

I think it's very good news and the churches in the West should take note of what is happening in what used to be mission lands and recognize that perhaps we are now the mission lands. I'm reminded of how the religious leaders responded when Peter healed the lame man at the Gate Beautiful. Instead of rejoicing at what God was doing, they dismissed Peter and John as "illiterate laymen" (Acts 4: 13). Instead of learning from these uncredentialed disciples, they ordered them to be quiet and stop preaching (Acts 3:1-10; Acts 4:1-22).

At the very least the Western churches should be like the prudent Rabbi Gamaliel, and withhold judgment until they could see what God might be blessing (Acts 5:34-38). "Otherwise you might find yourselves fighting against God" (Acts 5:39).

-Francis MacNutt

P.S. As you can see, this article is, in a sense, a book review of Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom. Ordering information is on page 3.

1 Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom (New York, NY, Oxford University Press, 2002), p. I.
2 Ibid., p. 3.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid., p. 9.
5 Loc. Cit.
6 Ibid., p. 77.
7 Ibid., p. 61.
8 Ibid., p. 65.
9 Ibid., p. 64.
10 Ibid., p. 7.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Jul/Aug 2002 Issue