Remember when Global Christianity was Shaming the Church in the West?

Fifteen years ago, bookies were betting on the Global South:

Today the Christian total stands at 360 million out of 784 million, or 46 percent. And that percentage is likely to continue rising, because Christian African countries have some of the world’s most dramatic rates of population growth. Meanwhile, the advanced industrial countries are experiencing a dramatic birth dearth. Within the next twenty-five years the population of the world’s Christians is expected to grow to 2.6 billion (making Christianity by far the world’s largest faith). By 2025, 50 percent of the Christian population will be in Africa and Latin America, and another 17 percent will be in Asia. Those proportions will grow steadily. By about 2050 the United States will still have the largest single contingent of Christians, but all the other leading nations will be Southern: Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and the Philippines. By then the proportion of non-Latino whites among the world’s Christians will have fallen to perhaps one in five.

What could go wrong? All indexes were pointing up.

But human sinfulness even among the saints has a way of defying prognosticators:

Christians in Nigeria are dancing on the brink of moral and ethical collapse. Many Christians who hold public office have become corrupt or immoral, betraying their public Christian testimony. They lack integrity and cannot present a strong moral and ethical witness. They lack the virtue of honesty in public life.

Nigeria is considered a very religious country. Christianity is not limited to churches and prayer meetings. Prayer and Bible readings are found in boardrooms and government offices. Billboards announce upcoming crusades, and exclamations like “to God be the glory” and “praise the Lord” easily fall from the lips of Nigerian Christians, even in public.

But as the well-known and respected Catholic priest George Ehusani has noted,

Alongside religiosity, corruption in its many shapes and sizes is booming in Nigeria—from the petty bribery taken by the clerk in the office or the policeman at the checkpoint, to the grand corruption by which huge project contracts are hurriedly awarded, not for the sake of the common good, but because of the greed of the awarding official, who requires some money via contract “kickbacks.”
He also notes that activities like embezzling and cheating—ranging from school children to high-profile public figures—often go hand in hand with outward expressions of piety. Many Nigerians obtain fraudulent medical certificates, as well as fake birth and citizenship certificates, to be admitted to good schools or to get choice jobs. They evade taxes, over- and under-invoice customers, perform fake audits, and on and on. He concludes, “All these practices are so commonplace and so widespread that many young Nigerians are unable to distinguish between good and evil or between right and wrong.”

Father Ehusani is merely describing what is common knowledge to all Nigerians. These matters are more lethal to the Christian faith than any Islamization agenda.

In the 20th century, indigenously founded churches sprang up across Africa, particularly in Nigeria. After the Nigerian civil war (1967–70), Christians who saw the conflict as a sign of the end times embarked on a massive campaign to spread the Good News of Christ across Nigeria. Student associations and missionary movements sprang up. Nigerian Christians were determined to re-enact what happened in the Book of Acts: turning “the world upside down” (17:6 ESV).

Sadly, today the story has changed. Both mainline and Pentecostal Christianity in Nigeria are still committed to reaching out to the unreached, but the undue emphasis on health and wealth has permanently changed the face of Christianity in Africa and the world at large. Pastors and church members are now more interested in building beautiful and massive edifices than in reaching out to the unreached people groups of the world. Many pastors are obsessed with material possessions, sometimes owning one or more private jets! The corruption of Christian moral values has now given way to the worship of materialism and pleasure. Our real god is now mammon (Matt. 6:24). We have become devoted to what American theologian and social critic Reinhold Niebuhr called self-love, self-interest, and the will to power.

Some of us wondered way back when about the way historians and journalists were evaluating the success of the church in the Global South with Christianity in the West:

The differences between the old and new Protestantism are not simply in the realm of perception, one being invisible or hard to discern, the other being very visible because of its numbers, intensity, and dramatic displays of divine power. Perhaps a more fundamental difference is the one between the eternal and the temporal. As the Brazilian pastor quoted in Jenkins’ book put it, “Most Presbyterians have a God that’s so great, so big, that they cannot even talk with him openly, because he is far away. The Pentecostal groups have the kind of God that will solve my problems today and tomorrow. People today are looking for solutions, not for eternity.” This assertion may not be representative of most pastors ministering in the context of southern Christianity. But its bold contrast between the temporal and the eternal, between the South and the West, does help to illustrate the outlook that has dominated the analysis of global Christianity. Southern Christianity is alive and booming because it daily proves its efficacy in providing real, tangible relief for those enduring great suffering. Western Christianity, by contrast, offers theological complexity or liturgical precision but hardly has the goods to make a difference upon those people most in need.

Without wanting to diminish the difficulties that southern Christians face in their economic, political and physical conditions, is it possible to suggest that concentrating on these realities is short-sighted? What happens if another political or economic system takes better care or if another religion provides more control over the spiritual forces seemingly causing so much affliction for Latin Americans, Africans, and Asians? But this is more or less a pragmatic question. The ultimate question is the eternal one of death. Will those Christians miraculously healed or even the ones benefiting from modern medicine still face death? Or how about those believers for whom Christianity has instilled a work ethic that yields physical comfort, whether it be clothing for children or a brand new Ipod? Will these benefits make much difference when men and women, as the prophet says, fade like the grass? And what of the significant manifestations of the Spirit in the worship of Christians, whether in Lagos or Minneapolis? What will be the advantages or benefits of these spiritual gifts on judgment day? To be sure, such questions may sound sanctimonious or wrongheadely obtuse. But if Christianity is at least in part a religion that promises eternal life, that no matter how difficult the sufferings of this life may be, believers have hope for relief in the world to come, then questions of eternal significance have genuine merit in evaluating contemporary Christianity, whether in the global South or West.

No delight here in what’s happening in Nigeria. And the troubles of Christians in Africa in no way proves the health of churches in North America and Europe. It is only a way to raise questions once again about the way scholars analyze and journalists cover religion. Generally speaking, the spirituality of the church is not sexy and enthusiasm (especially among the marginal) is.

And where did academics and reporters receive their training in Christianity?

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14 thoughts on “Remember when Global Christianity was Shaming the Church in the West?

  1. For a long time, much of Christianity has sided with wealth. The ties between Christianity and wealth occur in multiple ways. But to divide the problem as being a choice between the eternal and temporal groups those who are physically ministering to people in ways that legitimately provide relief with those have made money their god while wearing Christian camouflage in the churches. Thus, according to the above it seems like the global North and the global South have more in common than we might think.

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  2. But if Christianity is at least in part a religion that promises eternal life, that no matter how difficult the sufferings of this life may be, believers have hope for relief in the world to come, then questions of eternal significance have genuine merit in evaluating contemporary Christianity, whether in the global South or West.

    Jesus:
    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly [added:even in the ‘temporal’]. John 10:10

    Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance [even in the ‘temporal’]. Isa 55:1-2

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  3. In the end, statistics seem to be a wax nose. I am thankful God’s immutable, sovereign, certain, and omnipotent kingdom isn’t.
    No one can guess what God will do or how His kingdom will be manifested (Mark 4:26-29).

    Thanks for this post. I appreciate the historical aspect of it.

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  4. Curt Day says: Ali,But is siding with wealth sin? Is greed sin? Does it threaten one’s faith?

    the wealth sided with in above verses =
    Lam 3:24“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”
    Eph 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ
    Ps 112:3 Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.

    ‘greed’ is always used negatively in the Bible; desire for material riches, discouraged, due to its many temptations (some listed below), though the Lord makes rich and poor as He sees fit

    Jesus:
    Luke 12:15 “Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.
    Col 3:5 consider the members of your earthly body as dead to…greed, which amounts to idolatry.
    Psalm 10:3b the greedy man curses and spurns the Lord.
    Prov 11:28a He who trusts in his riches will fall
    Isaiah 56:11 the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied.
    Mark 4:19 the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
    1 Tim 6:9 those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
    Revelation 3:17Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked….

    What do you think, Curt – meaning, what do you think the Lord thinks about it?

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  5. As someone born and raised in Nigerian, I can confirm everything said here is true. Which is why I am concerned when Christians to opine about the “growth” of Christianity in third world countries; and pro mass immigration folks who believe everyone is interchangeable. Nigeria is as corrupt and wicked at they come.

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  6. “Western Christianity, by contrast, offers theological complexity or liturgical precision but hardly has the goods to make a difference upon those people most in need.” read: the social gospel is more important than worshiping God in spirit and in truth.

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  7. Ali,
    Remember that in the pre-revolutionary times of France, Russia, and Spain, the Church sided with wealth. That wealth wasn’t the heavenly wealth or the wealth promised to a covenant nation. That wealth came from exploitation and that is what the Church associated with the Gospel when it sided with wealth.

    So what does the Lord think about the Church siding with wealth? That all depends on how the wealth is accumulated and used, doesn’t it?

    Psalm 73:1-12

    1.
    Surely God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.

    2
    But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
    I had nearly lost my foothold.
    3
    For I envied the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

    4
    They have no struggles;
    their bodies are healthy and strong.[a]
    5
    They are free from common human burdens;
    they are not plagued by human ills.
    6
    Therefore pride is their necklace;
    they clothe themselves with violence.
    7
    From their callous hearts comes iniquity[b];
    their evil imaginations have no limits.
    8
    They scoff, and speak with malice;
    with arrogance they threaten oppression.
    9
    Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
    and their tongues take possession of the earth.
    10
    Therefore their people turn to them
    and drink up waters in abundance.[c]
    11
    They say, “How would God know?
    Does the Most High know anything?”

    12
    This is what the wicked are like—
    always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

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  8. Curt Day says: So what does the Lord think about the Church siding with wealth? That all depends on how the wealth is accumulated and used, doesn’t it?

    Yes. I thought all those verses were self-evident about that.

    2 Peter 2:3 …in their greed they will exploit…. ex·ploit: To make use of selfishly or unethically

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  9. Reblogged this on Patriactionary and commented:
    Interesting; we’ve long been told how Christianity in the Third World is putting Western Christianity to shame. And maybe overall, it is. But the huge grown of the heretical ‘prosperity gospel’ in places like Nigeria and Brazil show that not all is well with the Church there, either… Something to be kept in mind, if/when we’re tempted towards jealousy…

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  10. I am grieved by the obtuseness. I read the Venerable Bede in college and saw that Christianization in England was a long slow brutal process. I also attended a small talk with Jenkins and expressed concern with some “accommodations” they were making to “local culture”. Then looking at the NT we see that there was no early “pristine” church, even with the apostles themselves guiding them first hand.

    We ignored the Bible and our own history and these people are paying for it.

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