Putting the American Church into Perspective

Our perspective should be colored by God’s global and eternal purposes, not by the smaller, immediate “world” that we know.

A recent article in Relevant Magazine online, Report: 8 in 10 Evangelicals Live in Asia, Africa and South America, was there to greet me this morning when I opened Facebook. The article title, and the concluding statement put things into perspective:

“[T]hese figures … underline an important point about the vast racial and ethnic diversity of the evangelical strain of Christianity — a diversity often neglected in American conversations about faith.”

Evangelicals make up a little over 25% of the Christians in the world, and only 14% of the Evangelicals in the world live in the United States (993 million of 660 million evangelicals worldwide).

Let that sink in.

Let’s take another step back. Let’s gain a little perspective. Let’s look at American Evangelical Christianity for a moment from the larger perspective of the world.

More Evangelicals live in China and India, taken together, than in the United States (66 million and 28 million totaling 94 million). Almost one-third (32%) of all Evangelicals in the world live in Asia (213 million). Another 28% of Evangelicals live in Africa (185 million), doubling the number of Evangelicals in the United States! More Evangelicals live now in South America (123 million) that the United States.

These numbers show that American Evangelical Christianity is dwarfed by the number of Evangelicals worldwide, and the gap is widening.

A Christianity Today article in 2016 observed that Iran has the fastest growing evangelical church in the world. (Which country has the fastest-growing church in the world?) A 2019 article by a missions organization reports that Afghanistan has the second fastest Tgrowing church in the world. (You’ll Be Surprised Where Christianity Is Growing – And Where It Is Not) A 2018 article in the Houston Chronicle article reporting on the results of a conference at Rice University indicates that Christians in China are estimated to exceed the number of Christians in the US by the year 2030. (China, officially atheist, could have more Christians than the U.S. by 2030)

What does all of this mean for us?

Continue reading “Putting the American Church into Perspective”

Ceding Earthly Kingdoms and Seeding the Kingdom

Tower of David in Jerusalem, Israel.

In a discussion with Canadians, Krish Kandiah and Tom Newman, on the unbelievable Podcast with Justin Brierley (Agnostic ‘trying on’ church talks to a Christian – Tom Newman & Krish Kandiah), the conversation turned to the fact that Christians are a minority in Canadian and British society. The agnostic, Tom Newman, who experimented with Christianity in a podcast, commented about the value Christians bring to society, observing that Christians are particularly motivated to do good things. This led to an interesting dialogue.

Krish Kandiah, a pastor, observed that that the temptation of Christians as minorities in society is to go private, turn inward and become cloistered. That, however, he commented, is not the instruction from Jesus.  Jesus says you don’t light a candle to put it under a bushel. So, Krish Kandiah says,

“It becomes the obligation of the Christian minority to serve and bless the majority.”

What a difficult statement for an American Christian to hear! It almost doesn’t register. Did he really just say that?

It’s no coincidence that the interviewees were Canadian, and the host was British. Canada and Great Britain are decidedly post-Christian. The United States is heading that way too, though we don’t like to admit it. (Interestingly, Christianity is growing in other parts of the world like Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Muslim world, and Oceania, while remaining stable or declining in Anglo America and Europe.)

I think about these things in the context of the cultural wars that are raging in the United States. Christians are desperately fighting to hold on to a Christian consensus that was once known as the “moral majority”, but Christians have been losing ground. American society is incrementally moving the other way.

How do we deal with that? In the classic American Christian way, I wonder, “What would Jesus do?” More poignantly, what is God saying to us, American Christians, in this day and age?

Continue reading “Ceding Earthly Kingdoms and Seeding the Kingdom”

The Gospel and Dialogue with Our Culture

How should Christians engage the world?

I spend a fair amount of time on social media. Too much probably, but I see it as a way to connect with family, friends, the community and the world. As a Christian, it is a place where I can be salt and light, if indeed I am led by the Holy Spirit and exhibit the heart and mind of God. That is my aim. I am sure I fail at times.

In the process of spending time on social media, I come across many Christians. Many of friends are Christians, and many of their friends are Christians, so my feeds naturally reflect that fact. I also have many friends who are not “religious” (“nones” no doubt). Many of them don’t consider themselves Christian, and some of them are atheists. I embrace the diversity.

In my reading of the Gospels, I get the distinct impression that Jesus did too. He was  Jew, born into a Jewish family and grew up in the Temple, learning the Scriptures and engaging in the community of God-believers. When God became flesh, he came to His own, and we are told His own (many of them) didn’t receive Him. (John 1:11) “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Jesus didn’t just “stick to his own”. He was open and inviting to anyone and everyone. In the process, He was even accused by “his own” of fraternizing with people His own community saw as “them”. Jesus easily crossed the barriers that separate people into “us” and “them”. The Samaritan woman at the well was taken aback that Jesus, a Jew, would even talk to her, a Samaritan and a sinful one that (likely living on the fringe of her own culture).

Jesus was open and welcoming to all who engaged Him. Roman Centurions, Samaritan, tax collectors, Pharisees, unclean and adulterous women. He treated everyone with love and compassion. He addressed people where they were. Though He almost inevitably challenged the people who came to Him with the truth of God and the Gospel, He did it with tender love and compassion. The only times we really see Him getting angry was with the religious leaders.

I have a point in saying these things, and it has to do with social media and the way Christians interact with “the world”.

Continue reading “The Gospel and Dialogue with Our Culture”

Intellectualism and Scholarship for Christ

On the other side of our language is something which sustains it which can’t be contained within it … and that’s what we call God.

Olin Hall

As Christians, we naturally emphasize faith because faith is what God rewards. Faith is what connects us to God. Without faith it’s impossible to please God. But, faith also separates people from God – when they don’t have it.

Faith is a stumbling block for the agnostic and the atheist.

When agnostics and atheists (and sometimes even Christians) talk about faith, they often talk about faith in the “blind” sense, divorced from reason and rationality. Real faith, however, is anything but blind or irrational.

For the Christian, faith informs a God logic that is captured in doctrine. This logic is far from irrational or inconsequential. Faith is part of that God logic, but it isn’t divorced from logic or truths discoverable in  the material world that God created. Atheists and agnostics, however, don’t see the connection. Continue reading “Intellectualism and Scholarship for Christ”

The Field is Ripe

lightstock_147019_xsmall_user_7997290I spoke to a woman yesterday who was raised Muslim. She has had a very difficult life. When she was 8 years old, she had a near death experience in which Jesus appeared to her, filled her with His presence and instructed her on what she needed to do to stay alive.

Many years later, after moving to the US, she had another experience with God in which God spoke to her in a concrete way resulting in the rescue of her son from certain death. These are the things she related to me sitting across from me. The second experience led her to give her life to Jesus and become a Christian.

No one preached to her. She never went to church before these experiences. As an 8 year old, all she knew was Islam. Still, she knew who it was who encountered her in both instances, and as a result she is now a believer.

The thing that struck me as we talked was the matter-of-fact way she shared these things and a throw away comment: that she does not understand why other people are surprised. That led me to wondering why any Christian should be surprised that God does these things. Jesus did these things! Why should we be surprised?

This was her story. She lived it. God is very real to her even though she is currently jobless and lives in difficult circumstances.

I felt compelled to try to explain the reactions she has gotten to her story. I explained that people in the US seem to have been inoculated with Christianity. They have gotten just enough of the church that they seem immune to the “disease”! American Christians largely do not believe in miracles, and if they do they are more apt to believe psychics, supernatural phenomena and paranormal occurrences before they might accept the possibility that Jesus can appear to people in visions, heal the sick or perform miracles.

She also mentioned to me that she immediately began going to Church and reading the Bible after she gave her life to Jesus, but what she saw in church did not square with what she was reading in the Bible. So she stopped going there and found another church. She does not go to the other church any more either. In fact, she is not going to church anymore, but she still reads her Bible.

Throughout the time we spoke, alternating between her immediate issues and needs, her salvation story and God, the Holy Spirit filled our conversation. He was palpably present.

I prayed with her before she left, and told me something that made an even bigger impression on me: she said no one had ever prayed for her before!

No one. Her story is an indictment on the Church and a call at the same time for the Church to be obedient to God.

No one witnessed to her, but God reached her and drew her to Himself in very dire circumstances. She was so open to God that He simply showed Himself to her, and she embraced Him. She struggles in her life under difficult circumstances, but she has no church body to provide her support. The Church needs to be about God’s business to help people such as this woman!

We have been going through the entire Book of Acts at our church, and we are nearing the end. Acts is the sequel to the Gospels. The Gospels end with the Great Commission – the command to go into all of the World and preach the Gospel. Acts is the beginning of the church, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus promised to aid us in carrying out the Great Commission. The Great Commission extends to the “end of the age”; and as far as I know, we have not reached that point yet.

I had committed myself many months ago to help at a faith-based legal aid clinic. Yesterday was one Saturday that I was committed to being there. It was just another Saturday. I would have like to sleep in, but I was committed. If I had not made the commitment and had not shown up, I would not have met this woman who I have described.

I did not do anything extraordinary. I have felt God convicting me and gently urging me to be more involved and more committed. I have gotten to a place in my life in which I am not satisfied with life as I have known it. I have spent too many years brushing God aside, going my own way and ignoring His gentle urging.

I have experienced the reality that I can either have the World or I can have God, and I have seen that there is nothing in the World that compares to God. I know that because I have tasted of God’s goodness, then walked the other way. I have admitted to myself within the last few years that I am ruined for God. I know that I need more of Him and less of everything else.

The encounter I had yesterday has gotten me thinking: how ripe is the field for harvest that God is coming to people in visions and speaking audibly to draw them directly to Himself?! I suppose another way of asking the question is: how slack has the Church been in fulfilling the Great Commission that God must encounter people directly Himself without the help of the Church?

I know for a fact that this woman needs the body of Christ. She needs support. We are not meant to live separate from the body, and God intends that His Church bring the Gospel to the World.

Let us renew that commitment to the Great Commission today for people like the woman and her family that I met yesterday. Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion. If we are following closely enough to Jesus, we will do as Jesus does. The field is ripe for harvest, and the field is all around us!