God is neither dead nor sleeping
From reading some of my recent columns someone might get the idea that I believe Christianity and religion in general might be on their way out. Although there is some evidence to that effect in the U.S. and Europe, worldwide, Christianity is changing and expanding in dramatic ways.
A 2015 article in the Washington Post pointed out that a century ago 80 percent of the world’s Christians lived in Europe and North America compared with just 40 percent today. The article also revealed that for the first time more Christians are found in the Southern Hemisphere than the Northern. Today Christians in Africa and Latin America alone comprise 1 billion communicants. A Pew Research Center study projects this number to increase by 40 percent by 2030. God is neither dead nor asleep, His realm is simply becoming more inclusive.
Christianity is not only growing southward, but to the East as well. Over the past century on the Asian Continent Christian growth has increased at twice the rate of the general population. Asia’s Christians are expected to expand from their present 350 million to 460 million by 2025, a 32% increase.
Christianity is not only shifting geographically, it is becoming less traditional, less mainline, and more Pentecostal and Charismatic. Pentecostalism in Latin America is gaining three times more new converts than the Catholic Church. Brazil not only has more Catholics than any other country, but also more Pentecostals. Worldwide, one of four Christians today is either Pentecostal or Charismatic. Those are sobering, enlightening or encouraging numbers, depending on one’s perspective. But what is behind this phenomenal growth? Is it meeting a need not being met by the more traditional faiths? Is the Pentecostal/Charismatic explosion Christianity’s next Reformation, analogous to the rise of Protestantism? That’s entirely possible.
The Pentecostal movement is not bound by a single hierarchical structure or uniform doctrine. Pentecostals share a Christian world view that begins with the transforming experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit and a common belief that human knowledge and experience are not necessarily limited by historical fact and scientific reason.
Glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, immediately comes to mind when Pentecostalism is mentioned. Is it a test of faith? A doctrine? A sacrament? Actually it is none of these. All Pentecostals do not speak in tongues, but it is a gift with important symbolic meaning to all believers.
As late as 1970 Pentecostals and Charismatics comprised only 6% of the world’s Christians. In just a quarter century this number increased to 27%. Although the movement has experienced considerable growth in the U. S., conversions of exponential proportions have occurred in developing countries. And most of this increase is taking place among the poor and the working classes, the very same groups that fueled the early Pentecostal movement in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
What is behind this phenomenal growth? I think the main reason is the fact that Pentecostalism, in spite of its various denominations (Assemblies of God, several Churches of God and independent Holiness congregations) is a “movement,” not a single, monolithic denomination with an inflexible doctrine, hierarchy and bureaucracy with the inevitable political wrangling; a people bound more by faith and personal experience than theology.
God is dead? These prophetic words were recently seen on a bumper sticker: “My God’s alive; sorry about yours!”
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.