Did you know a church was established in China in 638?
Nor did I, until I read this quote from Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom: “Along the Silk Route, the Church of the East erected new metropolitan centers—at Merv and Bukhara, Samarkand and Kashgar. The Nestorians and their “luminous doctrine” were welcomed at the Chinese imperial court, and in 638, a church was erected in China’s capital of Ch’ang-an, then perhaps the largest city in the world” (loc 707).
Jenkins’ book–which Dr. Garth Rosell recently added to the syllabus for Church History II–startled, inspired, and intrigued me. It challenged my assumptions about Christianity around the world. It made me consider how I can contribute to the church in the Global South. It made me ask, again, “who is the church?” and, I confess, I’m still not quite sure. Regardless, if you’re startled, inspired, or intrigued by any of the following quotes, I suggest you read his book and consider what his findings about global Christianity mean for us as members of the body of Christ.
“Making all allowances for generalization, then, global South Christians retain a strong supernatural orientation and are by and large far more interested in personal salvation than in radical politics. Often, Christianity grows and spreads in highly charismatic and Pentecostal forms, ecstatic religious styles that are by no means confined to classical Pentecostal denominations, but which span churches with very different origins and traditions. Pentecostal expansion across the Southern continents has been so astonishing as to justify claims of a new Reformation” (loc 323).
“churches on all three continents share a passionate enthusiasm for mission and evangelism that is often South-South, organized from one of the emerging churches, and directed toward some other region of Africa, Asia, or Latin America—we think of Brazilian missionaries in Africa, Ugandans in India, Koreans in the Middle East. Although poorly studied, South-South evangelism represents one of the most impressive phenomena in contemporary Christianity: the topic cries out for a major book-length survey” (loc 458).
“Appropriately enough for the modern Europe-centered view, the book of Acts ends once Paul established himself in Rome. This Pauline movement became all the more important in hindsight because of the relative success of the Gentile churches after the Jewish revolt of 66–73. At the time, though, the richest fields for missionary expansion were unquestionably in Africa and Asia, rather than Europe. During the first century or two of the Christian era, Syria, Egypt, and Mesopotamia became the Christian centers that they would remain for many centuries. Christian art, literature, and music all originated in these lands, as did most of what would become the New Testament. Monasticism is an Egyptian invention” (loc 591)
“Except for Egypt and Syria, then, the Middle East has lost its ancient multireligious character over the past century—but the change is only that recent. From the seventh century through the twentieth, much of the Christian story took place in the lands of the Middle East, where it was at best sporadically observed by Western eyes. ” (loc 806)
“As predominantly rural societies have become more urban over the last thirty or forty years, millions of migrants are attracted to ever larger urban complexes, which utterly lack the resources or infrastructure to meet the needs of these “post-industrial wanderers.” More than a billion people—one-sixth of the world—are illegal squatters living on the fringes of a Third World city. Sometimes people travel to cities within the same nation, but often they find themselves in different countries and cultures, suffering a still greater sense of estrangement. In such settings, the most devoted and fundamentalist-oriented religious communities emerge to provide functional alternative arrangements for health, welfare, and education” (loc 2019)
“Churches provide a refuge during a time of immense and barely comprehensible social change. Cox aptly writes of modern urban centers that “sometimes the only thriving human communities in the vast seas of tar-paper shanties and cardboard huts that surround many of these cities are the Pentecostal congregations”” (loc 2062).
“In 1900, Africa had around 120 million people, or 7 percent of the global population. In 2005, the number of Africans reached one billion, or 15 percent of humanity. By 2050, Africa’s population will be between two and two and a quarter billion, which will then be about a quarter of the world’s people, and those numbers do not count millions of African migrants in Europe and North America. In 1900, Europeans outnumbered Africans by four to one; by 2050, Africans should have a three to one advantage over Europeans” (loc 2256).
“The Ethiopian kingdom that repulsed an Italian invasion in 1896 had some twelve million subjects. Today there are 88 million Ethiopians, and by 2050 there could be 280 million” (loc 2263).
“By mid-century, over 100 million Americans will claim Hispanic origin. They will then constitute one of the world’s largest Latino societies, more populous than any actual Hispanic nation with the exception of Mexico or Brazil” (loc 2690).
“Though Americans tend to assume that all Middle Eastern immigrants must be Muslim, perhaps three-quarters of Arab Americans are in fact Christian. The United States has been a popular destination for better-off Arab Christians from lands such as Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria” (loc 2825).
A gap in Western theology: “As Andrew Walls has remarked, “The role of ancestors and witchcraft are two important issues. Academic theologians in the West may not put witchcraft high on the agenda, but it’s the issue that hits ordinary African Christians full in the face'” (loc 3228).
“Churches beget sects, which in turn become churches, until they in turn beget new and still fierier sects. The cycle has recurred many times and will continue ad infinitum. As Southern churches grow and mature, they will assuredly lose something of their sectarian character, and become more like the major churches, with all that implies for the nature of leadership, worship style, and so on. They will move toward the mainstream, just as Methodists and Quakers did in their day” (loc 3588).
“Scholars studying medieval Europe are scathing about any attempt to draw lines between “religion” and ordinary life, and doubt whether anyone living in those times could actually have understood the modern distinction between church and state. In this sense, many societies of the global South live in an intellectual world far closer to the medieval world rather than to Western modernity. In recent decades, the politics of much of Africa, Latin America, and Asia have been profoundly affected by religious allegiances and activism, as clergy have repeatedly occupied center stage in political life” (loc 3622).
“The twin experiences of Sudan and Egypt explain why African Christians, so uncomfortably close to the scene of action, should be nervous about any extension of Islamic law and political culture. If Muslims insist that their faith demands the establishment of Islamic states, regardless of the existence of religious minorities, then violence is assuredly going to occur” (loc 4535).
“It is baffling why a Western world that committed itself so utterly to the plight of black South Africans under apartheid is so ignorant of the comparable maltreatment of India’s far more numerous Dalits. This is, simply, the largest single case of continuing institutional injustice in the world today” (loc 4801).
“Many of the 40 million or so Indian Christians are Dalits. Dalits represent 90 percent of the membership of the Protestant Church of North India, about half that of the Church of South India, as well as 60 percent of India’s 19 million Roman Catholics” (loc 4815).
“Northerners are going to find themselves ever more out of touch with the religious dimensions that shape the new world, and literally unable to communicate with the new people of faith” (loc 4189).
“If Northerners worry that Southern churches have compromised with traditional paganism, then Southerners accuse Americans and Europeans of selling out Christianity to neo-paganism, in the form of secular liberalism” (loc 5250).