On the other hand...
The June 11th edition of the Washington Post carried an article titled “Foreign Missionaries Find Fertile Ground in Europe.”
The article reports, “Churches in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, South Korea and the Philippines have sent thousands of missionaries to Europe to set up churches in homes, office buildings and storefronts. Officials from the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Pentecostal church based in Nigeria, said they have 250 churches in Britain now and plan to create 100 more this year. Britain's largest church, run by a Nigerian pastor in London, attracts up to 12,000 people over three services every Sunday."
The article also mentions 150 new churches in Denmark, all started by immigrants from the Global South.
A month later, the July 14th edition of the Wall Street Journal carried a front page article: “In Europe, God Is (Not) Dead,” subtitled, “Christian groups are growing, faith is more public.”
The article makes it clear that where Christianity is growing in Europe, it is growing among the more vigorous, evangelical groups. It also makes clear that this resurgence brings church attendance in Sweden up to barely 3% of the population. 97% of the population remains untouched by faith, Christian or otherwise.
These articles highlight in a public way some significant realities that have long been energetically discussed among church observers in less public settings:
First, Christianity as a living faith essentially had disappeared in much of Europe, leaving behind only the artifacts: architectural, cultural, and archaeological remains of people long dead.
Second, this resurgence is neither the result of strategic efforts by existing European churches, nor a “return of the faithful.” Rather, they are partly the result of immigration (faithful immigrants bringing their faith with them into Europe), and largely the result of energetic missionary work by non-Europeans. Meanwhile, the typically staid, “business as usual” European churches have continued their relentless decline toward extinction.
Third, the resurgence is not a return to the styles and forms of older, former European Christianity. Worship is energetic, charismatic, non-denominational, and loud. It is the opposite of formal, and it attracts the young.
Fourth – this resurgence is not unrelated to the struggle for the soul of the Anglican Communion. This resurgence is strongly influenced by the belief of Christians in the Global South that Christianity had suffered virtual extinction in Western Europe, calling for a new chapter in the story of global missions. At one time, Christian missionaries spread from Judea into Europe and Asia. At another time, Christian missionaries spread from Europe and America into the Global South. More recently, Christian missionaries began to spread from the Global South into Europe.
Fifth -- one of the realities of the current struggle for the soul of the Anglican Communion is this same missionary motive. On the one hand, many in the American Episcopal Church view African and South American bishops as intrusive, interfering, and obnoxious. “They’re invading our turf!” On the other hand, from the point of view of the Global South, Christian faith is visibly diminishing in America, just as it did in Europe. They hope to reinvigorate American Christianity long before it collapses, hoping to avoid catastrophe.
I think it’s a mistake to think in terms of a power struggle for control of the Anglican Communion. To be sure, that power struggle does exist and is intensifying, but I think to become embroiled is a waste of time, resources, energy, and opportunity. I think the wiser course is to take a careful, sober look at history, and to recognize that things change. America was once a mission field long before it was the source of global missions. It is now becoming a mission field again. I believe that indigenous American congregations, like ours, should work hard and strategically, not only to grow and to complete our own missional responsibilities, but to reinvigorate and launch other congregations, as much as possible. But we, and other indigenous American congregations cannot do this on our own. To accomplish the task before us, we need help, whether we want it or not. And help is coming. Whether we want it or not.
Other Christian missionaries from the Global South will undoubtedly come to our shores and to our communities. They will undoubtedly launch many new congregations here, just as they have been doing in Europe. This will undoubtedly increase in the years to come. These new congregations will most likely reflect the culture and values of those missionaries rather than the culture and values of traditional American congregations. But most importantly, they successfully attract and reach many who find American congregations uninspiring and irrelevant.
If we think about these things from an institutional point of view, we will likely think and act adversarially: our institution vs theirs, our power vs theirs, our values vs theirs. Many are already thinking and acting in those terms -- and when we think adversarially we end up, ultimately, in civil litigation. But if we do not think about it from an institutional point of view, if instead, we think in terms of welcoming any and every means for the spread of the Gospel of Christ, then we need not end up in adversarial power struggles. When one looks closely at the struggle of Jesus to deepen the faith of people, to bring healing and freedom, one does see him in conflict with the Pharisees, with the Sadduccees, with the Herodians, with the Sanhedrin, and with Rome. But never for institutional control. He struggled for faith, healing and freedom, but never sought to control the synagogues, the Temple, or the government. He ended up in court, to be sure, but never for property issues. Never for power. Never for money.
Rather than worrying about power, property, and institutional control, or worse, becoming embroiled in the power struggle, we should keep our focus. We should continue to pray and work at fulfilling our own responsibilities to deepen our spiritual growth and to reach out to our families, friends, and neighbors with the love of Christ. And we should welcome the growth of Christianity because of the faithful efforts of these new missionaries. We should pray for their success, even as we continue to pray and work for our own.
Grace and peace,