God is still on the throne, and he still reigns over planet earth. It may not seem that way, especially in the secular West, but God is still at work. Mere mortals may think they have dispensed with God, but that is certainly not the case. Indeed, he laughs at the many raised fists from mere humans being shaken in his face.
As we read in Psalm 2:1-4:
Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
Jesus promised us that he would build his church (Matthew 16:18), and nothing that man does can stop this. And if proud, arrogant Westerners seek to thwart his purposes, then God is quite able to move much more freely elsewhere. And that is just what he is doing.
As I have written previously, the centre of gravity for Christianity has shifted from the West to the developing world. While church growth may be slowing if not stopping in much of the West, it is mushrooming in much of the developing world.
Asia, Africa and Latin America are seeing mighty moves of God, and this activity makes it clear that God is not finished with us yet. There are plenty of studies on this, documenting this growth in the non-Western world. Some excellent research on this comes from my old alma mater, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston.
It has recently developed a new department, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, in which it “collates and analyzes data on church membership and evangelistic activities collected around the world by Christian denominations. Combining this with other relevant data, the center provides an authoritative view of global Christianity.”
In June of this year it produced an important 92-page document entitled, “Christianity in its Global Context, 1970–2020”. This booklet contains all sorts of useful and fascinating information and data about the state of the global church. For example, it says this early on in its “Key Findings”:
“For the period 1970–2020, several global trends related to religious affiliation are apparent. In 1970, nearly 82% of the world’s population was religious. By 2010 this had grown to around 88%, with a projected increase to almost 90% by 2020. Religious adherence is growing largely due to the continuing resurgence of religion in China.
“In addition, in 1970 Christianity and Islam represented 48.8% of the global population; by 2020 they will likely represent 57.2%. The global North is becoming more religiously diverse, with more countries becoming home to a greater number of the world’s religions. However, religious diversity is decreasing in many countries in the global South with the growth of mainly one religion, most commonly Christianity or Islam.”
The “Shift of Christianity to the South” is also noted: “The twentieth century experienced the great shift of Christianity to the global South, a trend that will continue into the future. In 1970, 41.3% of all Christians were from Africa, Asia, or Latin America. By 2020, this figure is expected to be 64.7%.
“Between 1970 and 2020, each of the six major Christian traditions is expected to grow more rapidly than the general population in the global South. Simultaneously, Christianity is declining as a percentage of the population in the global North at a dramatic rate. Birth rates in many European countries in particular are below replacement level, and populations are aging.”
To see this worked out in more detail, consider the places where Christianity is growing the most rapidly. Here, in order, are the top ten nations: Nepal, China, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Mongolia, Cambodia, and Bahrain.
Now that is a rather amazing list, isn’t it? Not one Western nation is to be found there, but plenty of Middle Eastern and Asian countries are. And notice the number of Muslim nations which are included here as well. God is most certainly at work there.
By way of contrast consider Europe: “The 100-year period from 1910 to 2010 was marked by significant changes in European Christianity, and the 50-year period from 1970 to 2020 will likely prove to be similar. In 1970, Christians constituted 75.0% of Europe’s population, a significant drop from their 94.5% share in 1910. By 2010 Christians claimed 78.6% of the population (a rise attributed to the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe), but this percentage is projected to decline to 78.0% by 2020.”
So the West at the moment is on a downward path, while much of the rest of the world is experiencing strong moves towards Christianity. Of course several hundred years ago the opposite was the case, and if the Lord should tarry, things may change again.
Indeed, we should not write off the West just yet. As I wrote elsewhere, God is not finished with it yet: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/08/25/europe-god-is-not-finished-yet/
So we are witnessing some major changes in terms of global Christianity. But even if the geographical focal point of the faith is moving, the truth remains: God is still at work. He is still building his church and bringing to himself a redeemed people from every corner of the globe.
The only question left to ask is this: what role are we playing in seeing his Kingdom extended and his church brought to completion? As David Platt recently wrote: “No child of God is intended by God to be sidelined as a spectator in the great commission. Every child of God has been invited by God to be on the front lines of the supreme mission in all of history.”
Let me finish with the remarks of a dynamic duo, a husband and wife team who did more for the furtherance of the gospel than most churches, and even most denominations:
“’Not called!’ did you say? ‘Not heard the call,’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face – whose mercy you have professed to obey – and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world.” (William Booth)
“People say you must be very careful, very judicious. You must not thrust religion down people’s throats. Then, I say, you will never get it down. What! Am I to wait till an unconverted, godless man wants to be saved before I try to save him? He will never want to be saved till the death-rattle is in his throat. What! Am I to let my unconverted friends and acquaintances drift down quietly to damnation, and never tell them about their souls, until they say, ‘If you please, I want you to preach to me?’ Is this anything like the spirit of early Christianity?” (Catherine Booth)