Where are the Christians? Not where you would think:
- As of 2010, the U.S. stood at 247 million Christians, most of any nation in the world. #2 is Brazil, followed by Mexico, Russia, the Philippines, Nigeria and China.
- The only European country currently in the top 10 of Christian nations is Germany, at #8 with 58 million. In 1910, Europe had about 2/3 of the world’s self-professed Christians. Today, only a bit over one-quarter of all Christians globally hail from the Euro continent. Today, China claims more Christians than any European country except Russia.
- The Global South accounted for only about 18% of all Christians in 1910; 100 years later this emerging region of the world represents almost 61% of all Christians. The South also now claims a Catholic Pope as one of their own.
- The Global South includes places like South America and Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa today has over 500 million Christians (up from less than 10 million in 1910) and almost as many professing Christians as all of Europe.
- The middle eastern cradle of Christianity accounts for less than 1% of all Christians globally. Less that 4% of the residents of this region call themselves Christian; the overwhelming proportion are Muslim.
Who says this? These statistics are the result of research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in a 2011 report titled: Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population.
All together, there are more than 2 billion Christians in the world today. However, those who call themselves Christisns today make up not quite one-third (32%) of the world’s population – down from 35% in 1910.
With 1.1 billion adherents, Catholics account for just over 50% of all Christians globally. They are followed by traditions of Protestants (37%), Orthodox (12%) and other Christians including Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists (at just over 1% each).
Good News or Bad News?
Are these changes good or bad for the Christian movement – now two millennia old? The good news is that Christianity has come closer to achieving the Great Commission of Jesus – to preach the gospel to every nation. Christianity now truly extends into almost every nook and cranny of the globe.
The bad news is two-fold. First, the cradle of Christianity has been left behind formerly Christian-dominated nations like Turkey (the churches of Asia Minor founded by Paul the Apostle), Palestine (centers of learning led by the theologians and historians such as Origen and Eusebius), Egypt (home to those who gave Christianity the books of the New Testament and the Nicene Creed) and Algeria (birthplace of St. Augustine). This cradle has since been upended by other religious movements (primarily Islam).
Second, it appears that numbers do not necessarily equate to intensity of belief and practice. Europe still nominally accounts for over one-quarter of those globally who call themselves Christians. But as we all know, the Christianity of Europe is largely just that – nominal. A cultural and social artifact.
God Moves On …
The evidence of the last 2,000 years clearly indicates that Christianity is not sustainable as a place-bound religion. Areas of the world once known for their faith have moved on to other gods – both spiritual and secular. And we are left to wonder why.
Three possible reasons come to mind:
- Christianity is a religion of the poor. As has been famously attributed to Karl Marx, “religion is the opiate of the masses.” Once the Christian work and social ethic takes hold, the poor become the middle class and religious expression fades in favor of materialism, the welfare state, and/or intellectualism that sees no need for God.
- God intentionally wills the action to keep shifting. Perhaps this is due to divine retribution for sin. The torch is passed from the Hebrews of the Old Testament to the Greeks and Romans of the New Testament because Jesus “came unto his own and they received him not.” Any people eventually turn their minds from spiritual to other priorities. The Hebrews followed after other Gods; the Puritan ethic of New England in the end favors work over enforced religious zeal.
- The Church has misunderstood its Commission, making Christianity unsustainable wherever it has taken root. Jesus came to bring not peace, but division – even in his own Church. What God wants is heterodoxy, not orthodoxy. Unfortunately, the “winner take all” approach of Christendom since the 4th century has meant that the new regime always comes at the expense of the old. The early churches of Asia Minor (Turkey) give way to western Europe to North America and now to South America and Africa.
For a clue as to which reason appears most salient, tune in for the next installment of this blog.
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