The global change in Christianity is accelerating, with the rate of growth and number of adherents shifting decisively toward the Developing World.The Holy Spirit is doing a mighty work among our brethren in Africa, India and Asia.
When considered in terms of growth and spiritual vitality, the West is rapidly becoming a spiritual backwater, being surpassed by these other regions. The rate of growth for the Church in Africa is 2.4% per annum. For Asia it is 2.07% and for Latin America 1.31%. In contrast, the growth rate for North America is 0.52% and for Europe it is 0.04%. [Cited from the “Status of global mission, presence and activities” published by The International Bulleting of Missionary Research (Vol. 31, No. 1)]
Philip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom, said that the heart of global Christianity will be Africa, not Europe or North America. What this means, says Jenkins, is that “in 50 or 100 years Christianity will be defined according to its relationship with that [African] culture.”
Many Western Christians and denominations have failed to come to terms with this global shift and with the changes in mission’s strategy and perspective it requires. Many continue to focus their energy and support upon an essentially 19th century mission’s paradigm of residential, church-planting missionaries. They have failed to grasp the tremendous opportunity available for teaching and equipping already existing Christian groups.
There is an incredible opportunity for those of us who are committed to Reformed Theology to influence the development and direction of the Church of the 21st century.It will be a church that is primarily located in what we now call the Developing – or Two-Thirds – World.It will be non-Western, poor, non-white and organized along different lines than the denominationalism that is so familiar to us.
This opportunity exists because of the absolute commitment of these believers to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. They have a reverence for God’s Word that would be stunning to many Western believers. Yet, they are also largely ignorant of the doctrines taught in Scripture and are particularly unfamiliar with any systematic hermeneutic. They know there is something missing in their Christianity, but they aren’t clear on what it is. African believers consistently describe the African Church as “a mile wide and an inch deep.” They want that to change.
These believers are very familiar with the work of the Holy Spirit and even many of those in traditionally Word-centered denominations would be characterized by Westerners as “Charismatic.”Their view of denominationalism is much looser than in the West, and they tend to divide along the single line of those who believe the Bible is God’s Word vs. those who do not.As a consequence, believers in the Developing World are hungry for Biblical teaching and are much more likely to embrace the truths of Scripture and to change their practices to conform to that truth.
This is an open door for Reformed believers to share their understanding of Scripture with their brethren Africa and Asia. ELI has taught Covenant Theology, a systematic hermeneutic, Reformed soteriology and even Presbyterian polity in these areas and that teaching – in so far as it has been presented as the teaching of Scripture – has been enthusiastically embraced.
There are some limitations, however. If this opportunity is going to be leveraged for significant theological change in the Developing World, these theological perspectives must be stripped (as much as is possible) of a Western perspective. When Western Christians teach in these contexts, they unintentionally include Western culture as part of the curriculum. So, there are several things that must be avoided:
· Blatant denominationalism or empire-building (i.e. neo-colonialism)
· Turf battles over who will control the end product.
· Western approaches to such things as the work of the Holy Spirit, worship style and culture, where such approaches are not clearly derived from Scripture.
Understanding those limitations, the opportunity for education and equipping our brethren (the passing of the baton, if you will) is literally world-changing. There is a distinct and realistic potential to lay the foundation for an African Reformation that will shape the character of global Christianity for centuries.
This African Reformation, like the European Reformation, will be driven by leaders – men and women who are committed to a Biblical, Christ-centered and gospel-driven world view.But that world view, based as it must be upon an essentially Reformed understanding of the Scriptures, is largely unknown in Africa and Asia.
Where ELI is working, these truths are being taught, understood and incorporated by the leaders we equip. The changes are dramatic. We have been told openly by African leaders, “Reformed Theology is the hope of Africa.”
These emerging leaders must be effectively trained and prepared for their task. And we in the U.S. have the tools to equip them.