World Christianity


Advent is a good season for global awareness and universal hope


Two global changes propel us to look at the Church in the broader perspective of World Christianity: the decline of main-line religion and the increase of secularism.

1. Global decline. There are as many or more non-Catholic Christians than Catholics in the world, and non-Catholics are growing faster. The growing churches are evangelical/Pentecostal denominations, national churches, and mega churches.

Examples. Before the communist take-over in China in 1949 there were 3 million Catholics and 1 million Protestants. In 2010 (Pew research) there were 8 million Catholics and 58 million Protestants. In the 1960s: 90% of Latin America was Catholic. Today in nine countries between 50% and 74% of Protestants are ex-Catholics. In the U.S. mega churches are growing at about 10% per year while the Catholic Church is closing parishes.

Challenge: Slow growing churches can learn from more successful ones. Problem: triumphalism. The Holy Sea blames "sects" as " wolves" who come to "steal" our sheep. In ecumenism non-Catholics are expected to "come home" and accept Catholic doctrine. Learning from others is difficult.

2. Growing secularism. In the US about 25 % are "nones." In the UK 48% are "nones" and 44 % are Christians. Moreover, for every convert to Catholicism in the UK, 10 cradle Catholics drop out. In Sweden 72% do not believe in God, 74% do not believe in heaven, and 92% do not believe hell; about 97% do not attend church regularly. I call secularism the spirituality of "spiritual but not religious." It is the prevailing and growing spirituality in the West. It is different from secularization which is the rejection of religion as in the ideologies of Marx, Comte, Durkheim, and Freud.

The challenge is to dialogue with secularism, e.g. in education, work, health, leisure activities, etc. which is the mission of the laity. Problem: religious triumphalism disvalues secularism while clericalism emphasizes centralization and control in religious matters.

Conclusion: the study of World Christianity looks at Christianity globally. It sees other churches' growth positively and dialogues with secularism. Ecumenism raises the question of church identity in terms of core vs. peripheripheral beliefs and practices.

Three concerns of contemporary interreligious encounter in 21st century North America:
- the danger of over-simplifying the religious identities of others,
- the importance of intra-religious dialogue, and
- the need to become more welcoming to marginalized and polytheistic traditions.

Read the article of Hans Gustafson


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