The dominant impression you have when you walk around the halls here at the Lausanne Congress III in Cape Town is that those who are a part of this Christian movement are young and dark skinned. Not many gray heads here; and whites are clearly the minority. There is the dark skin of the many Africans. The less dark skin of many South Americans. The slightly lighter colored skin of the many Asians. And then there are some white guys like me. I keep asking myself, how come there are not more of us? Then I realize that the organizers of Lausanne were trying to recreate the complexion of the global Christian church when they put together the invitation list.
The New Diversity
I experienced this same phenomenon when I served as a journalist for Billy Graham’s large Amsterdam gatherings in 1983 and 1986. It was then that I first learned that some big changes were on the horizon for the church. Here in Cape Town the churches of the world have converged and the color of Christianity is very plain. But I’ve got to tell you, it is not predominately my color. This change is sometimes referred to as “the darkening of Christianity’s complexion.”
It still comes as a surprise to many people that Christianity is not primarily Western. It wasn’t at its beginning, and it is not now. At its beginning it was Middle Eastern, and Eastern, and African, before it was Western. One of the books I read on the plane trip to South Africa was Martin Marty’s The Christian World: A Global History. Instead of organizing the book in a way that exclusively traces the history of the church in the West, Marty takes another approach. His chapter titles are—“The Jewish Beginnings, the First Asian Episode, The First African Episode,. The First European Episode, the Second European Episode, the Latin American Episode, the North American Episode, the Second African Episode, the Second Asian Episode, and the Unfinished Episodes.” This simple arrangement of his book signals two things. First, that Christianity is a transcultural religion. As a global faith it is at home in many cultures. It cannot be bound by any culture. The Bible itself tells us that the Word of God is not bound! And second, it signals that Christianity was not originally Western!
Now, nothing wrong with the West. The triumphs of Western civilization are many. Its glory, I believe, is seen when it became a primary transmitter of the Christian faith to the rest of the world. But that glory is fading fast.
The New Diversity Meets Worship
Given the darkening of Christianity, I noticed some very interesting manifestations of this at tonight’s meetings. Christians from the south, that is “hot culture people” who come from “hot culture climates,” express their faith differently than I do. They are generally passionate people. I am rather refreshed by hearing them pray and listening to them sing. They also express their worship differently as well. Have you ever worshipped in an East African village? I have. You don’t stand still when you sing. You sing loud, you clap, you employ rhythm, and you dance. Tonight, in Africa we sang Middle Eastern worship songs, Messianic Christian songs, and African songs. And most of the 4,000 people who were there worshipped like Africans—singing the songs that Jesus put in our hearts and they danced. I don’t want to say much more about this, except that I think a lot of Presbyterians are going to be shocked at the worship in heaven. Because if each culture in some way expresses the image of God, and if as sanctified people we are to praise him with our whole being, then there is no way we are going to be standing still around God’s throne. Enough said.
The New Diversity Meets The Church
Let me add another thought while I am at it. I have had three very interesting worship experiences in the last few months. One took place in a large southern suburban African American church in the south. It was a great worship service for me, until I realized sometime near the end of the service that I was the only white guy in the whole church. Another service took place in a large suburban church. It too was a great worship service for me, until I realized sometime near the end of the service that the church was entirely white. The third interesting worship experience is the one I’ve had here at Cape Town 2010. While it was predominately of a darker hue, it was populated by Africans, Middle Easterners, Europeans, South Americans, North Americans, Island peoples and Asians. Granted, the first two worship experiences were in local churches and the third was at an international conference in Africa. But the point is—not only was this third experience the most representative of worldwide Christianity. This third experience will most likely be the most representative of heaven.
Now hang with me for one more minute. This new global reality is coming to the American church. It may take a while to get here but it is not as far off as some people think. Not only that, but as people become more mobile, and as the world’s peoples move into our cities and neighborhoods, our churches will have to in some way reflect this reality.
From 1964-2004, our nation’s population grew from 200,000,000 to 300,000,000. The largest percentage of these people were Hispanic. In fact, the youngest demographic in the USA is Hispanic. Now, I am not particularly worried about this, partly because they are coming from a nominally Christian background, and partly because my grandparents were also immigrants.
But I am told that if current demographic trends in America continue, by 2040, there will no longer be a single majority race in the USA. This coming change is sometimes called “The 2040 Reality.”
I wonder if the American church is readying itself for this new reality? I wonder if we are really aware of the changes in the global church? And I wonder when our churches will start to reflect the color of Christianity?
I love hearing your experience and I am praying for you. God, in all of my discernment, is moving in you and speaking through you. Keep it coming and blessings for a safe trip home. We need you!
This was a great post! Well said and a much needed reflection. Maybe our priorities and the things we value in our churches are off. Maybe true church success isn’t how many people you are able to gather for a worship service but how many different types of people you a are able to gather into an intentional Kingdom community that worships and engages in a redemptive mission for their particular city/community. Just some thoughts. Thanks for writing this.