Dr. Timothy Tennent: The Big Picture – Mega-Trends in Christian Faith
Every 500 years or so, God decides to have a yard sale. Catholic Christianity which emerged after 451 continued on until God had a “yard sale” in 1054. That date, you will recall, is known as the “Great Schism.” This is what divided the church between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. The Christians from east and west actually met with one another the night before the “Great Schism.” They knew that the next day they would be separated into two separate churches. The Pope and the Eastern Patriarch were going to officially excommunicate each other. But, the night before, they met and had a final Eucharist service together. They blessed one another and they went their separate ways. Both communions have prospered. 461 years after the Great Schism was the irruption of the Protestant Reformation. This was a great upheaval, and most of us are quite familiar with this story, since, ultimately, (even though as one untimely born) Methodists came out of this struggle. It has now been 500 years since the Protestant Reformation. It is time for another yard sale, and God is not disappointing us. There are massive changes underfoot at every turn.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a Methodist, a Baptist, a Roman Catholic, a Pentecostal or an Independent Christian, you and I are in the midst of some dramatic changes which are sweeping across the church. The United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis may have left the impression that the whole church is talking about nothing else besides same sex marriage and gender reassignment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The changes which are sweeping across the church are far greater than any one issue like that. Let’s consider a few of the “mega-trends.”
First, the western world, once the heartland of Christianity, is experiencing the most dramatic collapse of faith since the advent of Christianity in Europe.
The numbers are staggering, but, collectively it amounts to around 4,500 people per day are leaving the church in the western world. Most of those losses are occurring in the so-called “mainline churches” (UMC, PC – USA, ABC, ELCA, and TEC). Congregations joyfully embracing historic Christian faith are rapidly growing even in the West. These new churches are mostly independent. They are mostly made up of first, second and third generation immigrant communities. Indeed, immigrants into the USA represent the greatest single source and hope of Christian renewal. So, for example, the United Methodist Church is losing approximately 100,000 members or regular attenders every single year. The UMC has done better than most mainline denominations, because, despite the strong pressure for our episcopal leaders to move away from a range of historic Christian doctrines and ethics, the Methodist Communications research has shown a persistent commitment to historic faith among the “people called Methodist.” They are not prepared to blindly follow the well-trodden path into the abyss of moral relativism, post-modern views of truth and becoming nothing more than an echo chamber for whatever the culture happens to be saying this week or next week.
Second, we are living in the midst of the most dramatic rise of Christianity the world has ever known.
There is no historic precedent for the simultaneous rise of so many new vibrant strands of Christianity. Christianity is growing in Asia quite dramatically. While Korea is sometimes cited as the greatest example of vibrant Christianity in Asia, you should pay particular attention to what is happening in India and China as well.
What are the take away lessons from these trends?
- Plant new churches and new sites, regularly. It will take thousands and thousands of new church plants to recover and reverse the millions upon millions who have left, or who are leaving the church.
- Stay closely connected to historic faith and biblical orthodoxy.
- Get to know any and all immigrant communities who may be living near you and develop a strategy to embrace, serve, and encourage those new communities.
- Remain joyful in your ministries, knowing that the gospel is good news for every generation!
Blessing on you as you serve Christ in our day!
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