Last month, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a report about the future of the global Muslim population. The report was largely cited in a way that seemed to provoke anti-Muslim sentiments. The Washington Post, which published a farily neutral article on the subject, cited this as well,
“The analysis could fuel critics of Islam in Europe and the United States, who argue that the religion is at odds with Western values and worry that the number of Muslim extremists is on the rise.”
The numbers seem to be staggering:
- The world’s Muslim population is expected to increase by about 35% in the next 20 years, rising from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030
- The number of Muslims in the United States will more than double, from 2.6 million in 2010 to 6.2 million in 2030
But while the world, specifically America, stood gasping and fearing for the future, another movement was already underway. One in which the numbers are far more impressive, and give hope to the coming generations. It began at the dawn of the 20th century and is being realized this very day.
This past Sunday, the Charlotte Obeserver ran a piece titled A Religious Revolution that highlighted a speech given by Philip Jenkins. Jenkins is “one of the top U.S. religion writers and an authority on the rapid growth of Christianity in Africa and Asia.” The revolution he was talking about was that of Christianity exploding across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He believes that right now we are witnessing, “The most exciting time in Christianity … since the 1st century.” That’s an incredibly bold statement. But his numbers give weight to his words:
- In 1900, Europe and North America accounted for about 85 percent of the world’s Christians. By 2050, that number will have shrunk to about 25 percent.
- During the same period, he said the number of Christians in Africa have, well, skyrocketed seems too tame a word. In 1900, there were 10 million; in 2000, 363 million. By 2015, Jenkins expects 500 million.
- And, by 2050, he predicted that Africa would become the first continent to have 1 billion Christians. Put another way: One of every three Christians in the world will be African.
- In the 20th century, about half of the people on the African continent moved from a tribal or pagan religion to either Christianity or Islam. And, Jenkins added, “Christians outpaced Muslims considerably” – by a margin of about 4 to 1.
Another statement by Jenkins which is incredible for missions abroad is that he believes conversions were an integral part of the wave of new Christians in these parts of the world. “In the 20th century, Africa – long a continent of European colonies, with missionaries running schools, medical clinics and churches – went from 10 percent Christian to 46 percent Christian.” So if you were wondering if the small groups of people from churches visiting tiny villages in other countries can really make a difference – there’s your answer.
The numbers surrounding Africa astounded me. I had no idea that kind of growth was going on. Another place that has been experiencing unbelievable growth is South Korea. This from a Christian Science Monitor article from 2007:
“While Christianity’s explosive growth has swept through much of the Southern Hemisphere – particularly across Africa – another dramatic story has unfolded in Asia. Some have dubbed it the ‘Korean miracle’.”
The miracle referred to here is something that truly deserves the name:
“About one-third of South Koreans are now Christian. Seoul, the capital, boasts 10 of the 11 largest Christian congregations in the world…South Korea sends more missionaries abroad to spread the word than any other country except the United States.”
At the time the article was written, there were more than 9 million Protestants and 3-4 million Catholics in South Korea. At the beginning of the 19th century, there were only a few hundred followers.
It can be so easy to wake up each morning and feel like we are living in a world that is overrun with strife, political and social persecution, and injustice beyond belief. These days, we find it hard to imagine Jesus’ vision for the church. A vision like the one Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18, in which even the gates of Hell could not overcome its power.
But we can take heart that His vision is still being carried out – in our day and in our time. Like our faith, it can be hard to hold onto, especially when we cannot see it. But, my friends, the Good News is spreading.
The places of growth for the church are shifting, but this shouldn’t surprise us. In fact, I believe it to be a testament to the righteousness of the Christian faith. Christians are called to protect the widow, house the homeless, dress the naked, and feed the hungry. Brothers and sisters, that is exactly what has been happening. The Faith is built on faith and actions. If not for these actions, Christianity would never have extended to those in the destitute parts of the world. The places where there is no light.
So, tomorrow, take heart that the vision for the church as Jesus imagined is still fully alive. It was built upon a Rock, and upon a Rock it still stands.