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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Rise and Fall of the Church

Here is an interesting article from USA Today about the decline of Christianity in Western Europe. It claims that in most of Europe the only major religion that is growing is Islam.

People who know me well, know my interest in the health and growth of churches around the world. And they've heard me comment time and again on the shift that is taking place. The Church began in the Middle East and rapidly spread eastward through Turkey toward India and China. And west and south into Northern and Eastern Africa.

Then Mohammed was born in the sixth century. He and especially his followers spent the next ten centuries wreaking havoc and decimating Christian communities so that now living churches are few and far between in the Middle East and Northern Africa. What had once been a thriving Christian culture has been Islamized, and the people languish in poverty, ignorance and oppression.

Already in the apostolic age, missionaries were going north and west into Europe. As the pagan Celtic and Germanic tribes began to embrace Christianity, what we call the Middle Ages began. And though sometimes mis-characterized as dark ages, the Christian assumptions and worldview created a cultural environment from which have come great universities, astounding works of art, hospitals, literacy, democracy, and the scientific method. Then Europeans emigrated to the New World bringing their Christian faith with them.

The point I am making is that Christianity has seen stages and surges in various places and times. Once North Africa and the Middle East were filled with vibrant Christian communities. These waned and have been nearly extinguished. Then Europe became the heart of Christendom, though it's time has evidently passed. Arguably, the twentieth century was North America's turn. But signs indicate that that is waning as well.

Where is the church strong and growing? To many observers, it appears that the future strength of the church may lie in Africa, South American, possibly Eastern Europe and parts of East Asia.

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6 comments:

The Cubicle Reverend said...

It is funny you say that because almost every article I read (including one from Atlantic Monthly) says Asia and Africa are booming when it comes to the church. And for all accounts so is America on the surface. But when we dig deeper who is the better off?

Lisa said...

Every time I read something about a church in Africa, it's about a minister standing for something. Sometimes he stands alone against the larger "church" governments. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn from these fearless leaders who have figured out that the Gospel is worth a fight and that good outweighs evil, even when the evil is couched in some personal identity issue where it is difficult to speak against the evil without hurting the evildoer's feelings. Oops...so easy for me to jump back up on the soapbox!

Do you know that some churches in Africa have sent missionaries to America? Amazing.

David Clapper said...

Lisa wrote:
>> Do you know that some churches in Africa have sent missionaries to America?

I recall Philip Jenkins (author of The Next Christendom) saying that African Anglicans were sending missionaries to England but were having problems trying to figure out how to inculturate Christianity for the English!

Kurt Wall said...

Islam ran Christianity out of Asia Minor, the Middle East, and Northern Africa at swordpoint. Now, people in those areas wallow in poverty and illiteracy.

Islam might not need swords or guns (or, the current favorite, bombs) to run Christians out of Europe — they can simply wait for the Church quietly to die.

I'd say the Evil One has been busy... One misguided student says, '"I'm very spiritual … I speak to an energy force I call God, and I get answers."' Satan hears our prayers, too, and is only too glad to tell us what we want to hear.

Anonymous said...

Kurt,
I don't know if this is allowed
but Pastor Scott can determine whether or not it is. You might be interested in this little piece from Doug Patton.
http://www.gopusa.com/commentary/dpatton/2005/dp_06061.shtml

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Anon,
I don't mind if people refer to other webpages (whether they represent my own views or not), as long as it is nothing obscene or anti-christian.

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