Signs and wonders
The globalization of the church and its impact on Canadian citizens
The spread of Christianity all around the globe has been nothing less than spectacular. “The era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetimes,” history of religion scholar Philip Jenkins argues, “and the day of Southern Christianity is dawning.”¹
Although the significance of this new reality in global Christianity has not yet been felt seriously by many in the Canadian context, it will surely impact us in the years to come. For many, this is exciting news; while for others, it carries the threat of a loss of power and control. The globalization of the church presents three major areas of opportunity and challenge.
Zeal for evangelism
Growth of the church in areas that have long been the home of other major world religions, along with increasing immigration into Canada of those who follow these religions, is creating significant tensions concerning pluralism and the claim that Jesus is the exclusive Saviour of humanity. Some Western Christians question the necessity of persuading non-Christians to become Christ-followers. Yet, when we encounter Christians from the Global South, we find that most simply ignore the pluralists in the West as irrelevant due to their departure from gospel essentials. Those who hold fast to Jesus as the unique way to salvation argue that the uniqueness of Jesus must lie at the center of mission.
Walk the streets with Christians from the Global South, and one quickly discovers their bold willingness to engage those they meet in spiritual conversations.
Evangelism is always God’s “fashion,” said Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi of Nigeria at the 2010 Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization in Cape Town. Christians are never out of style when they witness for Jesus. He questioned why many Christians in the West have more concern for their pets than the eternal condition of their neighbours. Our brothers and sisters will stir up our evangelistic fervour, if we allow them to do so.
Bible-based, Spirit-dependent theology
Closely tied to the previous point is the question of whose theology will emerge as the dominant expression of Christianity for the future. In comparison to Western Christians, those from the Global South are morally and theologically conservative, argues Jenkins. They have a greater respect for biblical authority, and “a special interest in supernatural elements of scripture, such as miracles, visions and healings; a belief in the continuing power of prophecy.”²
This more Spirit-directed theology challenges self-sufficient Western Christians to view Scripture through a different lens. Instead of allowing “safety and security, comfort and convenience” (what Alan Hirsch has identified as our “middle-class values”³) to characterize our Christian experience, our brothers and sisters from the South are encouraging us to step out in faith. Having experienced poverty and persecution, these Christians have learned that the God of the Bible still speaks and acts in today’s world. The Canadian church needs more of their dependence upon the Spirit of God.
The church as body
Another key component found in global Christianity and much needed in the West is a renewed vision for the true nature of the church. A determination to spread the gospel in the power of the Spirit has led to the recognition that every member of the body of Christ is essential for fulfilling God’s purposes inside the church as well as in the world. Christians need each other. Commenting on his missionary experience in India and Zimbabwe, Titus Presler argues that “community without mission dies out, and mission without community burns out.”4 Our Western quest to live private lives and preoccupation with time as a commodity to be controlled often lead us to lose sight of the importance of relationships for both internal spiritual growth and missional vision. May the global church stir us up in this area as well.
The globalization of the church is a trend we should pray will continue to increase. As Canadian Christians, I hope we long to see all people come to a saving and life-transforming relationship with Jesus. If we embrace what God is doing worldwide, there is great potential for radical renewal in our churches.
Ghanaian-born pastor Sam Owusu of the multicultural Calvary Worship Centre, New Westminster, B.C., often points to Revelation 7:9 as a reminder of God’s ultimate purpose: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”
The world has already arrived in our neighbourhoods – let’s follow the lead of the global church, and start practicing for heaven right now!
–Bryan Born is professor of intercultural studies at Columbia Bible College, and a member of Ross Road Community Church, Abbotsford, B.C.
1. Jenkins, Philip. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 3.
2. Jenkins, Philip. The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 4.
3. Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways, Brazos Press, 2009, p. 219.
4. Presler, Titus. “Mission Is Ministry in the Dimension of Difference: A Definition for the Twenty-first Century,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 34:4 (Oct. 2010):199.