God is nei­ther dead nor sleep­ing

The Catoosa County News - - COMMENTARY - Ge­orge B. Reed Jr.

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 reed1600@bell­south.net.

Rossville res­i­dent

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