Is Christianity Growing or Declining?

World Christianity
World Christianity
World Christianity

Is Christianity growing or declining?  Most people would give an answer to that question based on partial information.  Here is a bigger picture of what is happening with Christian faith on a global sale.  As of 2017, there were approximately 2.2 billion Christians in the world.  This figure includes all groups that fall within the traditional understanding of Christianity, including, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and various groups of Protestants.  Compare Christianity with its closest rival, Islam which is approaching 2 billion.  There are significant groups of Christians on every continent and in every country in the world.

Where Christianity is growing

Approximately 2.7 million people convert to Christianity each year from some other religion.

  • For example, since the year 2000, Muslim converts to Christianity have averaged more than 100,000 per year.
  • Another example is found in the 1.6 million Americans of Jewish background who identify themselves with some form of Christianity.
  • Since 1945, Christianity in China has grown from more than 1 million to perhaps 70 million.
  • Also since 1945, Christianity in South Korea has increased from around 2% of the population to around 30%. The largest congregation in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church has more than 200,000 members and is located in Seoul South Korea.

Roman Catholicism has grown by approximately 11% worldwide since 2000, with the largest gains in Africa.   Since the mid-20th century, Protestant groups have grown 300% faster than the world population rate, and 200% faster than the rate of growth for Islam.  Protestants of all groups now account for 40% of all self-identified Christians.  For example:

  • There are 300 million Protestants in Africa, apart from the Muslim majority regions of North Africa.
  • Even so, there are more than 2 million Protestants in North Africa and the Middle East.
  • North and South America combined account for 260 million Protestants, with countries like Brazil, Guatemala, and Haiti experiencing impressive growth in the past 50 years.
  • Europe currently has around 100 million Protestants.

Where Christianity is declining

Since 2000, the United States has seen a 7% decline in people who identify as Christians of any kind.  Experts believe this decline has resulted from the increasing climate of skepticism in general, and a growing hostility toward Christian faith in various influential sectors within society.  An even steeper rate of decline has occurred in Canada and Europe, with the exception of portions of Eastern Europe, where Christian faith has been on the upswing since World War II.

Overall, Christianity is doing very well around he world.  Contrary to the predictions of many in the Western world, Christianity is not in any danger, but continues to be the largest single religious family and is steadily gaining ground in many parts of the world.  American Christians can be encouraged by this fact, while finding new and creative ways to stop and reverse the decline we are seeing in our own culture.

Sources: World Christian Encyclopedia, Pew Research Center.

Why Atheism Doesn’t Work

Atheism is flawed
Atheism is flawed

A very simple argument can show why atheism doesn’t work.  Atheism doesn’t work simply because, without God, there can be no hope, no joy, no goodness, no justice, and no truth.  How can I say that?  I can say that because without God, ideas of truth and justice depend upon people’s thinking about them.  Hope, joy, and goodness depend upon people being able to rightly experience and practice them.

The only standard in atheism is power

But people differ from one another in how they think and practice these qualities.  They argue about what they mean and what they look like in real life. One person can argue another out of their concept of goodness, or justice. One group of people can gain enough power to enforce their version of truth on everyone else.  Under atheism, these qualities are defined and enforced by those with the most convincing arguments or the strongest will to dominate. This is why societies that give way to atheism tend to become totalitarian dictatorships.

Atheism cannot allow real freedom and choice

Most people hate dictatorships.  They sense that one group of people telling everyone else what it means to be good, or to have hope, or what what they can and cannot believe to be true, is a very bad thing.   Most people understand that true belief and genuine behavior cannot be forced.  In other words, human choice is a very real and very precious thing that atheism as a system cannot tolerate.

Atheism falsely claims that belief in God restricts freedom

Some might argue that Christian people and Christian organizations have sometimes tried to force people to believe and act in certain ways.  While that may be true, the bad or mistaken behavior of people who claim to believe in God doesn’t change the truth that God is the one from whom flow the qualities of justice, truth, and goodness.  God made people to be creatures who can make considered choices for or against these qualities.  People’s responses to God and to the qualities that flow from his character determine their experience of hope or joy.  The fact that people long for these qualities and desire to experience them seems to argue that God exists, since people can’t experience them fully without some outside source.

Here is the link to a related video from Prager University which makes a very similar argument.  I hope you enjoy it.

Basic Information about the Bible

Bible information
Bible information
Bible information

As an experienced pastor, and teacher of the Bible in venues on several continents, I have found that even long-time Christians often have an incomplete understanding of the Bible. People with little or no background in Christian faith usually have much less understanding of this incredible book. In the 21st century many people are mystified as to why Christians honor this book so deeply. So let’s look at some basic facts about the Bible.

Who Uses the Bible?
The Bible is revered by both Christians and Jews. Jews accept and use on the portion that Christians call the Old Testament, while Christians accept both Old and New Testaments.

While Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians accept the same 27 New Testament books, they have different collections of the Old Testament. Protestants accept a total of 39 Old Testament books; Catholics accept seven additional books called the Apocrypha, and Eastern Orthodox churches accept an expanded Apocryphal collection. Jews have a 35-book collection that corresponds directly with the Protestant canon of the Old Testament. The numbers between Protestant and Jewish collections are different because Christians separate the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Ezra-Nehemiah (which are single books in the Jewish collection) into two books each.

How was the Bible Written?
The books of the Bible were written by around 40 different authors, over a span of approximately 1300 to 1500 years (perhaps 1400 B.C. to 100 A.D.). The books were written in three original languages. The Old Testament was originally composed in Hebrew and Aramaic, while the New Testament was written in ancient Greek. The Bible contains a variety of genres (writing styles), including poetry, historical works, logical arguments, narrative stories, prophetic material, wisdom literature, lyrics to ancient music, etc.

The Old and New Testaments
The Old Testament outlines God’s redemptive work in the world before the time of Jesus, and focuses specifically on his work with the people of Israel. The New Testament describes God’s expanded redemptive beginning with Jesus’ birth, and focuses on the creation of a new, multi-ethnic people of God, known as the Church.

Translations
Because the Bible was written in ancient languages that most modern people cannot read, it has been translated into all of the major languages of the world, as well as into many languages of smaller groups of people. English has a wealth of Bible translations that allow us to read and accurately understand the sense of the ancient texts.

Themes
Though each of the books of the Bible has a unique purpose and setting, a common theme joins each of the books into a whole, revealing God’s holy character, his plans for human redemption and his great love for us, which he demonstrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. If you want to get a first-hand idea of what’s in the Bible, here are some suggestions for getting a grasp on the overall message of this amazing book:

  • Read Genesis for an understanding of early human history and the background of the nation of Israel.
  • Read Exodus to see how God’s covenant with Israel set the stage for his dealings with the Jewish people and his later work with the entire world by outlining standards of right and wrong, good and evil.
  • Read Psalms and Proverbs to find comfort, wisdom and help in the issues of life and in worshipping God.
  • Read Mark and John for a basic grasp of the life and identity of Jesus Christ.
  • Read Acts and Ephesians to see how God has implemented a new covenant through the Church to include people from all nations.
  • Read Romans to get a panorama of God’s entire plan of redemption.
  • Read Revelation to be assured that God’s plan will be fulfilled and his people ultimately given eternal joy.

Understanding the Bible
If you are a beginner to the Bible, you may encounter parts of it that may seem puzzling, boring or hard to understand. If that happens, the main thing is to hang in there. You may want to temporarily skip over those parts in your reading, making a note to come back later when you have more knowledge and experience with the Bible. Remember: the Bible is not written in code. The human authors (and the God who inspired them) intended us to understand the basic message. Part of the task is to learn some basic things about the times and culture in which the Bible was written, and to develop the ability to separate pre-conceptions from what is actually in the text. And don’t forget to simply ask God to give you insight as you read and ponder its message.
Michael Bogart

How Much do You Love the Bible?

The Bible
Holy Bible

How much do you love the Bible?

I personally have at least 10 copies of the Bible in various English translations.  I also inherited a couple of family Bibles and have been given Bibles or Bible portions in several languages besides English.  How often do I read the Bible?  I try to read a bit each day, but there are plenty of days when my schedule is demanding or I am focused on particular tasks, and don’t get around to my daily reading.

The Bible is a genuine treasure

For more than 2,000 years, this ancient book has been preserved intact.  The earliest of the Old Testament books could have been written down as far back as 1400 BC.  The last of the New Testament books were written sometime just before the end of the first century AD.  So from beginning to end, there is a time span of perhaps 1500 years.  The total number of authors who contributed directly to its content have been estimated at around forty.  Writers range from Moses to the Apostle John.   Yet, even though it truly is a human masterpiece, many people throughout history have regarded it as divinely inspired as well.  The Bible has been such a central part of human civilization that it is often quoted by people who would never claim to be believers in its divine inspiration.  Because of its unique role, many people have called it our greatest treasure.

The amazing power of the Bible

The Bible has amazing staying power. despite centuries of severe and continuous criticism.  In fact, people around the world love it and have experienced changed lives from its pages.   Contemporary people with scientific degrees, progressive politicians, and technical innovators love the Bible.  Lots of other folks who are very comfortable in the twenty-first century read it regularly and gain great comfort and wisdom from it.  The fact that the Bible remains a perennial best seller in the United States, and that its readership in Asia, Africa and Latin America is growing widely, illustrates its continuing power and influence. The Bible’s more than thirty centuries of transforming power in people’s lives shows that, far from being an outdated book, it maintains the ability to speak to the profound issues of the human condition.

Chinese Christians get their first Bibles

Check out this short video of some Chinese believers who received their first very own Bibles.  If you are moved by this scene, as I was, it shows that somewhere deep down, you have a love for this sacred book that can grow as you get to know it better.  Michael Bogart

Good News for the Millennial Generation

Unreached Millennials

The Millennial Generation

The Millennial Generation
The Millennial Generation

The Millennial generation needs good news.  Here’s why. let’s start with a quick overview of the Millennial Generation.  According to the linked video, Millennials are teens and young adults born between the 1980s and the early years of the 21st century.  This description agrees with the classic definition of the Millennial Generation as young adults between 18 and 35 years of age.  Millennials are the first generation to grow up with cell phones and the Internet.  They also grew up during times of economic recession.  Some have described Millennials as the most dissatisfied generation in American history.  They are also the least religious generation in American history.

Problems of the Millennial Generation

Among the problems Millennials must deal with are heavy student loan debt, unemployment and underemployment, and the frustration of older people at their apparent addiction to social media.   If they marry at all, they tend to marry at significantly older ages than previous generations.  Millennials also tend to be pessimistic about the future–both about the future of our society and about their own personal future.  They tend to have a casual view of sex, drug use, and gender identity.  Millennials tend to be overwhelmingly liberal in their political views, but often don’t vote or take part in the political process.

The outlook for the future

So, within the next 10-20 years, the Millennial Generation will have assumed power in all sectors of society from government to business.  Their views and values will dramatically shape our world.  When it comes to Christian faith, few Millennials identify themselves as followers of Jesus.  Next time you are in church, look around at who is there.  If you see a healthy group of young adults in attendance, your church is among the few who are reaching this largely unreached generation.  Most churches count very few Millennials in their congregation.   This is the single most important issue that the Christian Church must solve in the next 10 years.  If we don’t reach out to these people with some good news, Christianity in North America will look very different in the future.

What’s Wrong with Millennials? A Millennial Gives a Call to Action

Unreached Millennials

What is wrong with Millennials?

Millennials

I found an excellent video discussing what’s wrong with Millennials. The video by Alexis Bloomer entitled “Dear Elders, I’m sorry” went viral on YouTube.  A Millennial herself, Alexis believes her generation is entitled, disrespectful, unproductive, and lazy — to name just a few of the problems she says are common among young people aged 18-35.

A call to action

Of course, it is wrong to label an entire group of people with any description because there is always variation in any group.  Even so, many people have felt that Alexis Bloomer’s analysis of her own generation has some validity.  Most importantly, at the core of her video, Alexis makes a strong call to action for her generation to show kind, respectful, and productive behavior.  Thanks for your timely and sincere words, Alexis.

The missing motivation

The issue Alexis doesn’t go into is how this behavior can become a part of a person’s life.    Alexis seems to have been blessed with good parenting.  It is true that good upbringing can account for some good behavior for those who experienced it. However, learned behaviors only go so far without the personal peace, security, and a desire to do right that comes from deep within a person.  Many people of all generations can speak of the inner change that came into their lives through embracing the good news of  forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus.  Perhaps Alexis didn’t have the time to include this key inner motivation.  Even so, I personally find this call to action refreshing and inspiring.   What do you think?

Christianity’s Spread: 1000 – 2016 AD

Check out this video: Christianity’s Spread: 1000 – 2016 AD!

Christian Cross
Christian Cross

In a previous blog, I posted this graphic map of Christianity’s spread from its beginnings around 30 AD to the year 1,000.  This sequel video shows its continued global spread until the present time.  Note that the maker of this video (Ollie Bye) includes all branches of Christianity in the video, including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Christianity as well as Protestantism.  He does this by using different colors.  Of course the video is simplistic, but it does a great job of showing how Jesus’ words about preaching to all nations is being fulfilled!

The map gives a global perspective

So often we think of Christianity as a European or North American thing that was exported to other parts of the world.  This video showing Christianity’s spread over the past one thousand years gives perspective on that idea.  The truth is that Christianity only reached most of Europe around 400 years after the time of Christ, and spread to eastern Europe just before the year 1,000 (see the previous video).  Christian Faith came to North America with the European colonists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Share your thoughts

Tell me what you think about this visual representation.  Feel free to share the video with your friends, but don’t forget to give credit to Ollie Bye, its creator.

Christianity’s Spread: 30-1000 AD

Check out this video on Christianity’s Spread 30-1000 AD!   I think you’ll find that it will surprise you with how Christianity became established and the timeline it followed.

The value of this video.

This video shows visually how Christianity spread over its first thousand years from a tiny persecuted group in the Middle East  to eventually cover much of Europe and beyond.  It is interesting to see that Southern Europe, as well as parts of Africa and Asia became Christianized first.  It took 600 years for the ancestors of the English to embrace Christianity. The Germans accepted Christian faith at least a century later, and the Russians converted just before 1000 AD.  Notice how Christianity once also covered much of the Middle East and North Africa, but was displaced by Islam around 650 AD.

The next segment

This video was created and originally originally posted by Ollie Bye.  I will follow up this presentation with another post by the same person featuring a video of the spread of Christianity from 1000 AD to the present.  If you are of Christian faith, I think you may find these videos encouraging.  If you are not of Christian faith, you may at least learn some facts that you were unaware of.  Either way, enjoy.

Meanwhile, tell me what you think, and feel free to share this post with your friends.

Watch the Video: Christianity’s Spread: 30-1,000 AD

The Bible is Cross-Cultural

Diversity
Cultural Diversity

Really?  The cross-cultural Bible?  Cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding are important themes for society in the 21st Century. Turn on the news, or watch a movie, and the issue of cultural understanding is likely to be brought up somewhere along the line. But, how we are supposed to actually become cross-cultural people? Should we move to a neighborhood that is multi-cultural? Should we listen to the music and read books by people who are not like us culturally? Should we feel ashamed of our own cultural backgrounds?  Many people are left feeling confused and angry.

The Value of Cross-Cultural Understanding

My point is not to debate whether cross-cultural understanding is important. Obviously the ability to understand something about other cultures has many positive outcomes. Few people would disagree that mutual cultural understanding would produce greater harmony among in our divided society.   The Bible itself looks forward to the day when people from every nation, tribe and language are united in the worship of their Creator (Revelation 7:9).

But how can we develop a cross-cultural outlook when it seems that forces are working to divide people into isolated, antagonistic groups? One way is to rediscover a cross-cultural resource that has always been available to us: the Bible.  A moment’s thought will show that studying the Bible is a rich cross-cultural experience in itself.

Cross-Cultural Bible: The Old Testament

Moses and Pharaoh in Exodus
Moses and Pharaoh

For example, reading Genesis requires us to accompany Abraham out of ancient Iraq and Syria into the land of Canaan. The study of Exodus involves the reader in a second-hand experience of Israel’s oppression in ancient Egypt, and the drama of their escape and freedom.   The later portions of the Old Testament bring us in contact with the cultures of ancient Israel, Babylon, and Persia.

Cross-Cultural Bible: The New Testament

ancient woman
Greco-Roman Woman

The New Testament also opens up cross-cultural experiences to the reader.  In the pages of the Gospels, we visit the world of First Century Judaism as we walk with Jesus through the villages of Galilee.  In the New Testament letters, we travel through time into Greco-Roman culture as we grapple with the problems of Christians in the early churches.  It may be possible to read the Bible and ignore the cultural features, but to do so is to miss some of its most important teachings.  In fact, we must understand at least some basic elements of the cultures of the Bible in order to correctly apply their lessons to our own times and our own lives.

Examples

A few examples will show what I mean. In the Old Testament book of Ruth, Naomi and Ruth, find themselves in a dangerous society.  They appeal to Boaz for protection.  Boaz then acts to provide protection and to bring them into a family unit.  People who fail to understand the culture of ancient Israel might jump to the conclusion that this story is an example of ancient sexism.  But understood in light of the times and the culture, it should be seen as a brave and generous act of compassion.  Likewise, the provision for slavery in the Old Testament might be seen an oppressive practice, unless the reader remembers that ancient societies had no welfare system. When people fell into hard times and family could not assist, the way to avoid complete ruin and starvation was to enter into a limited period of servitude. Once the period ended, the person could make a fresh start.

In Luke chapter 1, Mary’s acceptance of the word of the announcement that she should conceive the Messiah —before her marriage to Joseph— is nothing short of heroic. That Mary and Joseph would go on to raise Jesus in a disapproving and gossipy village environment, so common in all times and cultures, should cause us to marvel at their faith and endurance.  In the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 11, the command for women to cover their heads in public worship might be seen as insensitive in our own self-absorbed culture. But when the reader understands that the point of the command is the issue of public respectability.  Head covering for women demonstrated respectability in that culture.  Once the principle is grasped, appropriate application can be made for our own times.

Conclusion

True—people have often applied things taught in the Bible inappropriately.  But that fact is not an argument against the Bible itself–only against failing to understand the cultures of the Bible and how its truths can be applied across cultures to our own situation. The point is that, among all of the other amazing things about the Bible, it is also a deeply cross-cultural experience. Time spent in its pages can cause a kind of cultural sensitivity desperately needed in our diverse and troubled times.

How Should We Pray?

How should we pray?  Many people are familiar with the Lord’s Prayer.  You know, the prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples recorded in Matthew 6 and Luke 11.  It begins: “Our Father which art in heaven….”.  Jesus taught this prayer to his followers  not so that they should merely repeat its words, but to provide a guide for regular prayer.

Who are we talking to?

Focus for a moment on the first section of the prayer: “Our Father which art in heaven: hallowed by Thy Name.”  These are significant words. What are they teaching us about prayer?  First, these words remind us that we are talking to a person. We are speaking with the God who is real and personal, not an impersonal Force as the Star Wars movie series depicts God.  Then, God is called Father.  According to Jesus, prayer is to be directed primarily to the Father–the first person of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Yes, there is only one God, but he apparently exists in a way that is beyond our understanding: one in essence, yet three in personhood.  Jesus, the incarnation of the Son, teaches that our prayers should be directed to the Father.   Jesus emphasizes that God is “our Father”.   Remember that Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples rather than to the crowds.  Those who have put their trust in the Father’s Son may call God Father.

What kind of God are we praying to?

The prayer reminds us that God is in heaven.  That means that he is in a position to hear our prayers and do something about them.  An earthly father is limited in what he can do, but our heavenly Father is not limited in either wisdom, or power.  Finally, God is said to be holy (hallowed be Thy Name).   Many people don’t have trouble thinking of God as loving, —possibly because this concept of God is so appealing.  But a holy God – one who is pure and perfect, one who is not like us, one who has no sin or wrong associated with him in any way – is a problem for some folks.  We need to be reminded of this aspect of God’s nature because it determines both our attitude in prayer and the kinds of things we request of Him.  He doesn’t think like we do.  He is not motivated by some of the things that motivate us.  He is holy.

What is the goal of prayer?

Once we understand who we are addressing in prayer and what kind of being he is, we can focus on the next portion: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  When we pray like this, we are asking God to do those things which will honor Him and serve His own purposes.  Praying like this should immediately remove any selfish elements in prayer.  By focusing on the goal of God’s Kingdom coming on earth, we are wiping the slate clean of wrong, self-centered, or impure motives.

Praying for God’s Kingdom to come also causes us to focus on exactly those things which he has already promised to hear and answer.  Though we may not always know what to ask for specifically, praying like this automatically narrows our requests and intercession to the kinds of things that we are aware of that God favors and is likely to grant.  For example, the types of things the Bible says are according to God’s will might include:

  • that people will hear and respond to the good news that they can be forgiven, remade, and restored to God through faith in Jesus
  • that people may grow in personal goodness and godliness
  • that God’s people may be purified and have a positive influence in the world
  • that the basic needs of family, friends and people’s in general will be met.

Maybe you can think of more.

But if we are praying for God’s will to be done above all else, then we must submit each our will to God’s will before our prayer can proceed to other things.  Submitting our wills to God’s will means that we must consent that God’s will can take place in our lives — if nowhere else.  We must be willing for His Kingdom to have its effect in the things that are dearest to us, even if it means that our plans are changed, and the direction of our lives alters drastically.  We must not harbor those sins of attitude that resist the coming of God’s Kingdom.  In other words what we are saying to our Heavenly Father as we pray is that our greatest desire is to have what God desires.  We are saying that we will be pleased to see his glory and his purposes worked out in our lives.  We are saying that God has permission to use us in this process of accomplishing his will on earth.

What kinds of requests should we make?

Jesus teaches that prayer should include things that we are concerned about. He lists several types of things that are legitimate requests in prayer:

Daily bread.  God knows that we need basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing, the means to make a living and the health necessary to maintain life.  Notice that there are no luxury items mentioned.  The Bible does not condemn extras in life by any means.  But Jesus’ prayer focuses on the basics needed to maintain life and productivity.  This focus reminds us that we can be content with simple things, and that we should not become caught up in chasing more and better as so many people in contemporary society are.

Forgiveness.  Aside from the very few people who really don’t see that they have ever done anything wrong, all of us know we have sinned.  We know in our hearts that we have hurt people, that we have shamed ourselves, and that we have offended God’s standards in one way or another.   We know this because we recognize that we have violated common standards of right and wrong, but also because we feel guilty and ashamed.  At the core of the good news is that Jesus died to secure our forgiveness, cleansing and empowerment to live differently.  In asking to be forgiven of trespasses, we are in effect asking to receive the  benefits of Christ’s atonement.  Part of that request is the realization that forgiveness has indeed been granted in Christ.

The partner to the request for forgiveness is that we forgive others.  How can we who have experienced God’s forgiveness refuse to forgive those who have offended us?  While perhaps our forgiveness from God is not contingent on whether we fully forgive others, Jesus presents them as a package deal: “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Protection.  “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”  Very simply, we beg God to protect us from ourselves when under temptation and from people and situations that would bring harm.

Though not all experts agree that this final phrase was part of Jesus’ original teaching, traditionally Christians have included, “For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, Amen.”  It is certainly fitting that our prayers may end with a recognition that all good things belong to God.  So, with these things in mind, let us pray in the way that Jesus taught His disciples!