Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

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Evangelicals Global Growth

August 12, 2015 Articles

In the past fifty years, Evangelicalism has grown faster than any religious movement known in history. While in North America and Europe recent stats suggest a falling off of church attendance and belief, globally the church community has not only expanded in numbers but has also taken on new and vigorous engagement in public and civic matters.

Globally there are 2.4 billion Christians in three major Christian communities. Roman Catholics make up 1.2 billion, the World Council of Churches (including the various Eastern Orthodox traditions) total 500 million, and the World Evangelical Alliance represents 600 million Evangelicals.

Two out of ten Christians in the world reside in Africa. In 1970 Africa’s population was 366 million and142 million or 38.7 percent were Christians. Fifty years later (estimates for 2020) out of 1,278 billion in Africa, 50 percent or 630 million will confess Christian faith. In fifty years that’s an explosive growth, expanding from 142 million to 630 million Christians.

In Nepal there were seven Christian families in 1950 and by 1960 only 100 believers. Today Nepal has nearly 1.5 million Christians. This closed-off country is ruled by a monarchy that declared Christian faith illegal. It struggled through the insurgent days of Marxism and in 1990 a partial freedom of religion was allowed. Today, the witness of Jesus is bursting out. A Nepalese leader said their Christians have spiritual unity, be they Anglican, Baptist, Methodist or Pentecostal. “We all believe the entire Book and practice it in faith.” As here, so it’s true in most of the Western world, where many mainline Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist churches are Evangelical in theology and practice.

So who is an Evangelical?
British scholar David Bebbington provides a helpful definition. Evangelical Christians are defined by four major tenets: belief that the Bible is trustworthy as the basis of our rule of faith; the importance of person conversion; trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin; fulfilling Jesus’ mandate to give witness of him and to do good works as he instructs.

Evangelical is a word first used during the Protestant Reformation under Martin Luther in the early 1500s. Using the New Testament word evangel meaning “good news,” those who left the Catholic church were often called Protestants or Lutherans by their detractors. In Germany Evangelical became the defining label for this new movement.

In the 1700s its usage grew more frequent in the English-speaking world, and was most famously applied to William Wilberforce, a major individual in changing British laws regarding slavery.

Early in the 20th century the Protestant church was split by the emergence of a divided way of seeing the Gospel. Up to the end of the 19th century most of the Protestant community would have fit the fourfold defining model. However, in a more liberal reading of the Bible, it became a text which contained rather than was the Word of God. Also, liberals removed the necessity of personal conversion and questioned Jesus as being the only means of salvation.

This liberal tilt resulted in a conservative reaction. Denominations were split and new ones emerged. Mission movements were born and the old Protestant world was no longer. Today in Europe and North America, the mainline Protestant churches are in a major slide of attendance while the Evangelical churches are either holding their own or growing.

Two Realities
The contemporary Evangelical movement has two dominant realities. First, it is particularly mission prone, creating and expanding a myriad of mission initiatives in all arenas of public and social life. The largest humanitarian organization in the world is World Vision, a ministry birthed by Youth for Christ staff member Bob Pierce in the 1940s. On the other side of the social spectrum, often undisclosed in North America, is the amazing grassroots chapel ministry in professional sports. South Korea, a country of 50 million, will send almost as many missionaries globally as the United States with a population of 330 million.

And second, integrated into this burgeoning growth is the power of the Pentecostal movement. Launched in the early 1900s in a number of global points but more famously in Los Angeles, and often referred to as the Azusa Awakening, it has become the dominant player in the creating of ministries, building of churches, and in pressing an understanding of the Holy Spirit of God, his person and work in the lives of individual Christians, as well as the vitality of trusting God for healing and empowerment in life and service.

Americans today are fed the public media line that Evangelicals are a voting bloc, as if they all see policies and public leadership in a similar way. While 70 percent of U. S. Evangelicals say they vote Republican and 30 percent Democrat, within those numbers various universities, seminaries and churches span the gamut of political and social views.

A major shift began to appear some four decades ago. As the Evangelical community took hold in the early part of the 19th century, socially and politically its focus was on personal salvation, preparing for eternity, and living a holy life. Public leadership was seen as secondary, best left to others. Operating with a bifurcated view of creation into sacred and secular, it saw politics and social policy as outside the purview of its mandate. But in the 1970s Evangelicals realized that being absent from the public table meant that their deeply held views were ignored because they weren’t heard. Globally, those countries framed by Western missions have in recent days come to see the importance of engaging in all of life, preparing their congregants to believe and put into practice Jesus’ call to be “salt and light.”

Even though many pundits on matters of faith see the West in decline, globally the world is being reshaped by a spiritual force most commonly referred to as Evangelicals, believe Jesus is the answer and that those who call themselves by his name are to “occupy” until he returns.

Brian C Stiller
Global Ambassador
World Evangelical Alliance
August, 2015