“look and feel” of the world Christian movement are
constantly changing. We are influenced by:
circumstances, actors and events
differences and movements
and technological changes
life, governance structures, affiliations and even doctrinal
distinctives vary from one place and time to another. This course
examines some of the main current trends, to enable participants to
understand more fully the context in we are all functioning and need
to remain relevant in a dynamic world.
is the Christian church headed, in terms of its day to day
is our real level of influence in the world? Which world?
the church an institution or a change agent?
order to answer these questions meaningfully it is important to
understand where we have recently come from and how events that are
unfolding in the world around us will impact our identity and witness
will start by looking at some “big picture” trends
influencing the 20th/21st Century church (noting that “the
church” is not monolithic). As we move through the course we
will look more closely at cultural issues, corporate and leadership
styles, doctrinal emphases and the work of the Holy Spirit in
fulfilling God’s plan through the Body of Christ in our time.
We will take account of competing world views and their implications
for global evangelism and discipleship. We will see where we “fit”
(as individuals and as movements) and prayerfully consider how our
lives can contribute to building the Kingdom of God in our era.
OVERVIEW OF MEGA-TRENDS IN THE 20TH CENTURY:
Industrial, Post Modern
little over one hundred years ago:
Western community was in transition to a new century
of the globe was controlled by a handful of colonial powers; much of
the world was “pink” on Anglocentic maps
United States was isolationist
structures in Europe were being challenged by Bolshevism and other
winds of change
arms race was under way in Europe, although many leaders refused to
conceive of the possibility of “global” war
people lived in rural societies (in spite of the Industrial
was in its infancy (the bulk of technologies we take for granted
today were “pipe dreams”)
structures were traditional and armchair anthropologists taught that
cultures were relatively static (“formalism”)
political parties demanded greater access to wealth and the levers
of social policies
was having an impact on thinking about the origins of our species
and the nature of all things.
Australia, a newly independent and unified country, the economy was
growing (having survived the depression of the 1890s). A new
political movement, the Labor Party, was challenging conventional
power structures. Roman Catholic and Protestant interests were at
ideological loggerheads (manifest in the political divide, partly
because of the mixed origins of European settlement and the make-up
of the workforce), but Australia was generally regarded as a
“Christian country”. The commitment to Empire was almost
absolute (Australian citizenship, as such, did not come into being
then, there have been:
Great Depression (and several other major economic shocks)
protracted Cold War, the rise and fall of the Soviet Union and its
satellites and client states
decolonisation (leading to the birth of dozens of new nation states
and statist philosophies, contributing to antipathy toward the
former colonial powers and their real/perceived instrumentalities,
including missions organisations, described as “the suasion of
the sign” – “colonialism, commerce and
re-alignment (North/South; East/West; the awakening of China and
scientific break-throughs, including moon/Mars landings (and beyond)
and genetic engineering
information revolution (“information superhighway” to
explosion in the population of the world (linked in large part to
amazing leaps forward in medicine); in 2008 the number of people in
urban environments surpassed the rural population for the first time
in history, according to the United Nations
majority of scientists in history are alive today, leading to
pronounced intersections between science and the Gospel. Islam has
re-emerged as a force in the global political economy. The clout of
the United States has waxed … and waned. The world has become
a global village. HIV AIDS has become an enduring but deadly part of
the landscape (not to mention pandemics such as the H1Ni virus). God
has variously been declared “dead”, female and “part
of every one of us”. Western countries have become much more
pluralistic in make-up. The planet has become warmer and the polar
regions are melting – “green” has gone from being
trendy to a (arguably) matter of human survival.
church around the world has also undergone significant change.
Christians with European backgrounds are now in the minority, but
continue to have (disproportionate) access to resources. While there
is an emphasis on church growth and the emergence of mega-churches,
mass evangelism has largely shifted to the developing world. Rapidly
changing means of communication have revolutionised the way the
message is promulgated. The growth of denominations has been
look at how trends over recent years will put the elements of the
course into a clear context.
Changing External Shape of Missions
history of missions is characterised by great successes, frustrations
and failures, running in part in parallel with the scramble for
colonial influence, decolonisation and the emergence of national or
culturally aligned churches and more sophisticated tools, but the
need for global witness has not diminished.
the late 20th century, there has been greater emphasis on
indigenous leadership and church models, tempered by those with
interests in maintaining historical once (often with resources
attached), travel patterns, legal issues, access, training and the
opportunities of globalisation of the Christian community, with
outreach in both directions.
visits have proven a popular mechanism for Christians in the West to
get involved frictionally in church support, evangelism, church
planting, teaching in traditional “mission”
environments”. Many of these subsequently return in a
is a renewed understanding of “marketplace ministry”
(Christians reaching people in their spheres of influence, eg work
places) and local missions in the West. Some models have weakened
(eg FGBMFI). The ALPHA model has proven effective in providing a
platform for Christians and non-Christians to meet around Christian
faith in non-threatening, non-ecclesiastical environments.
notable area of growth is missionaries emanating from the developing
world. For example, the Back
To Jerusalem movement,
begun in China
by Chinese believers, aims to send missionaries
to all of the Buddhist,
peoples who live between China and Jerusalem;
influential Catholic and Anglican clergy are increasingly from “the
early twentieth century was marked by the beginning of the
charismatic, or Pentecostal,
December 26 1900, a group of Christians in the United States who had
been praying and reading the Bible reported that they had been
filled with the Holy Spirit and had spoken in tongues. This
movement (which was regarded by alarm within traditional
denominations) rapidly spread throughout the world, spawning
hundreds of Pentecostal denominations, the largest being the
Assemblies of God.
initially outside mainstream churches (in large part due to
misunderstandings on both sides), since the 1960s there have been
charismatic movements in many Roman Catholic (largely in Latin
America), Protestant and Orthodox churches.
churches in the West are moving to more mainline forms of
expression, however a number of movements, or streams (eg those with
a prophetic emphasis; or “parachurches” with particular
constituencies), stand out from the majority.
late 19th/early 20th century era saw the
emergence of a range of cults, largely driven by millennial emphases
(given concerns about international conflicts and the end of the
world), disillusionment with the inability of older denominations to
cope with social change and new thinking, or striving to meet
peoples’ experiential spiritual needs.
included Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Worldwide Church of God
(Armstrongism). Mormons increased their efforts at growth in the
West. Groups such as the Moonies emerged later in the century,
along with New Age and syncretistic belief systems (including the
cyclical visibility of niche “churches” that combine
Christian tenets with alternative philosophies and practices, such
end of the 20th century witnessed the birth of new cults,
driven by similar millennial concerns, fixing the Day of Judgement,
and diminished influence on the part of others (eg Freemasonry and
British Israel). Others, such as Scientology, have been popularised
by public figures but encountered legal problems because of their
cults are linked to mainstream forms of expression. For example, in
Nigeria, anti-witch churches with histories of torture, infanticide
and extortion are associated with errant Pentecostal movements. In
Uganda the so-called “Lord’s Resistance Army”
asserts the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and has waged an ongoing
war against the government, claiming divine protection against
bullets while committing atrocities. The Church of the Lamb of God,
in the Latter
Day Saint movement
that was founded by Ervil
has been associated with murder
for and racketeering
in the cause of the Kingdom of God. In the West, extremist forms of
Pentecostal worship embrace non-Biblical (sometimes blasphemous)
teachings and patterns, in order to reach unbelievers.
Eastern Europe and the USSR (and their satellites, eg Latin America
and Africa), particularly during the Cold War, Christians were
persecuted by communist dictatorships, starting with the 1905 and
1917 revolutions and the USSR’s and China’s spheres of
influence after World War II.
Latin America Marxists tried to mix their ideological faiths with
Christian tradition; Liberation Theology emerged in Roman Catholic
communities, predominantly in Latin America, but was strongly
opposed by the Vatican.
Christianity in the West
shape, size and influence of Christianity in the West have changed
dramatically during the past 30-50 years.
much of Western Europe, interest in Christianity and personal faith
in Christ have fallen, and it has become perhaps the most secular
region in the world, with most people being Christian in name only.
For example, Spain has some 28,000 towns and villages without a
single evangelical church; France is in a similar situation.
is less talk of “Christian countries”, even in societies
with strong Judeo-Christian roots (although Civic Religion continues
to be strong in the US, where the political power of Christian
groups to the right on the political continuum ebbs and flows,
largely in response to external opportunities and threats).
Australia, regular church attendance has dropped alarmingly; many of
the stereotypes that were strong just fifty years ago are
disappearing, as young people (many of whom remain spiritually
“open” notwithstanding) look for alternative belief
systems/channels, create their own, or adopt none at all (even if
they continue to regard themselves as spiritually aware).
church must have credible responses and effective voices regarding
dominant ethical issues, eg environmental degradation, stem cell
research, the role of the family in the modern world, gender, human
rights and industrial matters.
Church in the Developing World
the so-called “Third World” the number of Christians is
numbers of Roman Catholic, Protestant and Pentecostal churches have
been established in these continents, as well as many independent
movements, especially in Africa (some of which are characterised by
syncretism and extra-Biblical features), continue to be formed.
the Bible into new languages took off in the 20th
century, especially with the computer age and development of forms
of rapid transportation, however there are still hundreds of
dialects without any part of the Scriptures.
1900 one country in the Global South (Brazil) was listed in the top
ten countries, by “Christian” population. By 2005, this
had risen to seven (only the USA, Russia and Germany remained in the
list). By 2050 only one country (the USA) will remain in the top
ten; the rest will be in the South.
level of persecution and martyrdom of Christians has been higher
during the past hundred years than at any other time in history.
has been a growing interest in ecumenism within many mainstream
denominations in the later half of the century.
denominations joined together to form the Uniting Church, and the
Catholic and Orthodox churches have intermittently discussed the
possibility of restoring links, after a separation of more than half
the nineteenth century various teachings that were unacceptable to
the rest of the church became official Roman Catholic dogma,
including papal infallibility, the Immaculate Conception and the
sinlessness of Mary; these developments extend the formal gulf
between Roman Catholics, Orthodox churches and Protestant
the Protestant denominations there are growing gaps between “liberal”
and conservative biblical beliefs.
Christianity looks upon the Bible as a
collection of narratives, or myths, that explain Christian
understanding; this invariably leads to a willingness to interpret
scripture without believing in its inspiration or inerrancy , and
without accepting the supernatural (eg the Virgin Birth, the
miracles and resurrection of Christ) as literal.
1962, Pope John XXIII called the Second
were both a new climate of Catholic-Protestant relationships and
sweeping changes brought about by the Council, including allowing
and encouraging ordinary Catholics to read the Bible, permitting the
to be conducted in the vernacular; and accepting that Christians
could be found outside of the formal Roman Catholic structure.
Christians in the modern era, we are “salt” and “light”
in our world. The church has a defining role in approaching the
major social justice issues of the age.
Christian message has practical responses to AIDS, food security,
family planning, economic inequalities, living with repressive
governments, racism, conflicts, refugees, gender imbalances,
industrial relations, the rule of law, human rights and global
current Global Economic Crisis is having major impacts in developing
countries, with giving from Western supporters down in real terms,
unemployment growing and the international economy facing continued
and Leadership Issues
denominations are divided on numerous social issues.
include whether or not to permit women to become church ministers,
the acceptability of divorce and re-marriage, sexual immorality and
homosexuality, particularly in ministry. The most liberal churches
have emphasised tolerance and are now allowing sexual relations
outside of marriage and promotion of gay priests. The unity of the
world Anglican Communion is under threat because of polarisation
around these developments (cf Barak Obama’s compromise).
Century Christian leadership is going to be very different (but
similar to) older models.
home groups, house churches, virtual Christian communities, orders,
and so on are witnessing ongoing re-shaping of the nature of
leadership, against the background of the need for effective leaders
who are godly but, at the same time, reflect what is appropriate in
contemporary leadership styles.
some denominations, there has been a shift to team leadership,
incorporating varieties of ministries/gifts; many churches have
moved into more “corporate” structures and hierarchies,
with mixed results.
past hundred years have witnessed exponential growth and change in
communication tools and costs and have effectively “shrunk the
world”. We are living in the Information Age.
life without fast and affordable air travel, mobile telephones,
DVDs, television, iPods, the Internet, Skype, FaceBook, Utube
(connecting people across borders and cultures) and an avalanche of
affordable Christian literature.
models of evangelism and discipleship are being re-evaluated, to
ensure we are simultaneously geared to the times and take advantage
of the unparalleled opportunities delivered by current and future
technology, while anchored to God’s purpose and truth.
separate paper Sustained World Mission in a Technological Age
Resurgence of Islam
20th Century saw the resurgence, radicalisation and
geographical expansion of Islam.
resurgence was fuelled by the decolonisation experience, economic
muscle linked to rising oil prices, charismatic leadership of groups
such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, dissatisfaction over
the status of the Middle East and the promotion of high moral
standards (in the context of moral decline in the West).
experts believe Islam will be the dominant religion in Europe by the
end of the 21st century. There will be a showdown in
Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, as burgeoning Christianity
and Islam meet.
we explore the raft of issues associated with trends in the global
Christian movement, look for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and
threats in paradigm shifts that are taking place.
the designated research projects to find out for yourself what trends
Christ will build His church; the form it takes and the extent
to which we can be involved need to be both Biblically sound and
flexible in expression.
need to be self-aware and highly strategic in our thinking, while
walking in obedience to/reliance on the Holy Spirit and in
partnership with the rest of the Body of Christ.